Social Psychology and Human Nature, 8th Edition

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Social Psychology and Human Nature, 8th Edition

Social Psychology A N D HUM AN NATURE Roy F. Baumeister Florida State University Brad J. Bushman University of Michig

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Social Psychology A N D HUM AN


Roy F. Baumeister Florida State University

Brad J. Bushman University of Michigan

Australia • Brazil • Canada • Mexico • Singapore • Spain United Kingdom • United States

Social Psychology and Human Nature Roy F. Baumeister, Brad J. Bushman

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Library of Congress Control Number: 2006933356 Student Edition: ISBN-13: 978-0-534-63832-0 ISBN-10: 0-534-63832-5 Brief Version: ISBN-13: 978-0-495-11633-2 ISBN-10: 0-495-11633-5

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We dedicate this book to our mentors and to their mentors, in appreciation of the teaching of psychology through these relationships. Roy F. Baumeister (1953- ) Ph.D. 1978, Princeton University

Brad J. Bushman (1960- ) Ph.D. 1989, University of Missouri

Edward E. Jones (1926-1993) Ph.D. 1953, Harvard University

Russell G. Geen (1932- ) Ph.D. 1967, University of Wisconsin

Jerome S. Bruner (1915- ) Ph.D. 1941, Harvard University

Leonard Berkowitz (1926- ) Ph.D. 1951, University of Michigan

Gordon Allport (1897-1967) Ph.D. 1922, Harvard University

Daniel Katz (1903-1998) Ph.D. 1928, Syracuse University

Herbert S. Langfeld (1879-1958) Ph.D. 1909, University of Berlin

Floyd H. Allport (1879-1958) Ph.D. 1919, Harvard University

Carl Stumpf (1848-1936) Ph.D. 1868, University of Leipzig

Rudolf H. Lotze (1817-1881) M.D. 1838, University of Leipzig

Hugo Münsterberg (1863-1916) Ph.D. 1885, Leipzig University M.D. 1887, Heidelberg University

Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) M.D. 1856, Harvard University

Edwin B. Holt (1873-1946) Ph.D. 1901, Harvard University

William James (1840-1910) M.D. 1869, Harvard University

About the Authors Roy F. Baumeister holds the Eppes Eminent Professorship in Psychology at Florida State University, where he is the head of the social psychology graduate program and teaches social psychology to students at all levels. He has taught introductory social psychology to thousands of undergraduate students. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1978, and his teaching and research activities have included appointments at the University of California at Berkeley, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Virginia, the Max Planck Institute in Munich (Germany), and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. Baumeister is an active researcher whose work has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and by the Templeton Foundation. He has done research on the self (including self-esteem and self-control), the need to belong, sexuality, aggression, and how people find meaning in life. In 2005, the Institute for Scientific Information concluded from a survey of published bibliographies that he was among the most influential psychologists in the world. His publications have been cited over 5,000 times. This textbook is his 300th publication. Baumeister lives with his wife and daughter by a small lake in Tallahassee, Florida. In his (very rare) spare time, he likes to play guitar and piano or go windsurfing.

Brad J. Bushman is Professor of Psychology and Communication Studies at the University of Michigan. He is also a professor at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam (the Netherlands), where he teaches and does research two months per year. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri in 1989. He has taught introductory social psychology courses for 15 years. Dubbed the “Myth Buster” by one colleague, Bushman’s research has challenged several societal myths (e.g., violent media have a trivial effect on aggression, venting anger reduces aggression, violent people suffer from low self-esteem, violence and sex on TV sell products, warning labels repel consumers). His research has been published in the top scientific journals (e.g., Science) and has been featured on television (e.g., ABC News 20/20, Discovery Channel), on radio (e.g., NPR, BBC, CBC), in magazines (e.g., Newsweek, Sports Illustrated), and in newspapers (e.g., New York Times, Wall Street Journal). He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife Tammy Stafford, and their three children Becca, Nathan, and Branden. In his spare time he likes to ride his mountain bike and listen to jazz music (e.g., Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Michiel Borstlap).


Brief Contents Preface xvii CHAPTER 1

The Mission and the Method



Culture and Nature


The Self


Behavior Control: The Self in Action 115


Social Cognition


Emotion and Affect


Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency 223


Prosocial Behavior: Doing What’s Best for Others 251


Aggression and Antisocial Behavior 289


Attraction and Exclusion 325


Close Relationships: Passion, Intimacy, and Sexuality


Prejudice and Intergroup Relations


Social Influence and Persuasion 441


Groups 477


69 145 181



Application Modules A

Applying Social Psychology to Consumer Behavior


Applying Social Psychology to Health


Applying Social Psychology to Law C1


Applying Social Psychology to the Environment


B1 D1

Glossary G1 References R1 Name Index N1 Subject Index S1 v

Contents Preface xvii

1 The Mission and the Method 3 A Brief History of Social Psychology 5 What Do Social Psychologists Do? 8 Social Psychology’s Place in the World 9

Social Psychology’s Place in the Social Sciences 9 Social Psychology’s Place Within Psychology 10 Why People Study Social Psychology 12 Curiosity About People 12 Experimental Philosophy 12 Making the World Better 12 Social Psychology Is Fun! 13 How Do Social Psychologists Answer Their Own Questions? 14 Accumulated Common Wisdom 14 Overview of the Scientific Method 15 Scientific Theories 15 Food for Thought: Does Chicken Soup Reduce Cold Symptoms? 16

Research Design 17 How Much of Social Psychology Is True? 22 Self-Correcting Nature of Science 22 Reliance on Student Samples 23 Cultural Relativity 23 Chapter Summary 24

2 Culture and Nature 29 Explaining the Psyche 31


Nature Defined 32 Evolution, and Doing What’s Natural 32 Culture Defined 34 Cultural Influence, Meaning, and the Power of Ideas 36 Are People the Same Everywhere? 38 Social Animal or Cultural Animal? 39 The Individual and Society 41 Social Brain Theory 41 Evolved for Culture? 42 Facts of Life 45 Food and Sex 45


Bad Is Stronger Than Good


Food for Thought: Virtuous Vegetarians 47 The Social Side of Sex: Sex and Culture 48

Tradeoffs: When You Can’t Have It All 49 Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Bad, Good, and Positive Psychology 50 Tradeoffs: Political Tradeoffs 53

Important Features of Human Social Life 53

The Duplex Mind 54 The Long Road to Social Acceptance 58 Built to Relate 58 Nature Says Go, Culture Says Stop 59 Selfish Impulse Versus Social Conscience 60 Putting People First 61 What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective 63

Chapter Summary 64


The Self


What Is the Self? 71

The Self ’s Main Jobs 71 Who Makes the Self: The Individual or Society? Self-Awareness 75


Food for Thought: Eating Binges and Escaping the Self


Where Self-Knowledge Comes From 80

Looking Outside: The Looking-Glass Self 80 Looking Inside: Introspection 81 Looking at Others: Social Comparison 82 Self-Perception and the Overjustification Effect 83 The Fluctuating Image(s) of Self 85 Why People Seek Self-Knowledge 86 Tradeoffs: Self-Handicapping 89

Self and Information Processing 90

Anything That Touches the Self . . . 90 Can the Self-Concept Change? 92 Self-Esteem, Self-Deception, and Positive Illusions 95 Self-Esteem 95 Reality and Illusion 96 Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Basking and Blasting 97

How People Fool Themselves 98 Benefits of Self-Esteem 100 The Social Side of Sex: Self-Esteem and Saying No to Sex 101

Why Do We Care? 102 Is High Self-Esteem Always Good? 103 Pursuing Self-Esteem 104 Self-Presentation 105 Who’s Looking? 106 Making an Impression 107 Self-Presentation and Risky Behavior 109




What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective 110

Chapter Summary 112

4 Behavior Control: The Self in Action 115 What You Do, and What It Means 117

Action Identification 118 Goals, Plans, Intentions 120 Freedom and Choice 125 Freedom of Action 126 Making Choices 127 Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Avoiding Losses Versus Pursuing Gains 129 The Social Side of Sex: Gender, Sex, and Decisions 130

Self-Regulation 132 Food for Thought: Dieting as Self-Regulation 135

Irrationality and Self-Destruction 136

Self-Defeating Acts: Being Your Own Worst Enemy 136 Tradeoffs: Now Versus Tomorrow: Delay of Gratification 138

Suicide 138 What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective 140

Chapter Summary 141

5 Social Cognition 145 What Is Social Cognition? 147

Thinking About People: A Special Case? 147 Why People Think, and Why They Don’t 148 Goals of Thinking 149 Automatic and Controlled Thinking 149 Thought Suppression and Ironic Processes 154 Food for Thought: It’s the Thought That Counts (or Doesn’t Count!) the Calories 155

Attributions: Why Did That Happen? 156

It’s Not My Fault: Explaining Success and Failure 156 You Looking at Me? The Actor/Observer Bias 157 The Attribution Cube and Making Excuses 159 Heuristics: Mental Shortcuts 161 Representativeness Heuristic 161 Availability Heuristic 161 Simulation Heuristic 162 Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic 163 Errors and Biases 164


Confirmation Bias


The Social Side of Sex: Counting Sex Partners 166

Conjunction Fallacy 167 Illusory Correlation 167 Base Rate Fallacy 168 Gambler’s Fallacy 169 False Consensus Effect 169 False Uniqueness Effect 169 Statistical Regression 170 Illusion of Control 170 Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Good News and Bad News 171

Magical Thinking 171 Counterfactual Thinking 172 Are People Really Idiots? 174 How Serious Are the Errors? 175 Reducing Cognitive Errors 175 What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective 176

Chapter Summary 177

6 Emotion and Affect 181 What Is Emotion? 183

Conscious Emotion Versus Automatic Affect


Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Names for Emotions 184

Emotional Arousal 185

James–Lange Theory of Emotion 185 Cannon–Bard Theory of Emotion 186 Schachter–Singer Theory of Emotion 186 Misattribution of Arousal 187 The Social Side of Sex: Can People Be Wrong About Whether They Are Sexually Aroused? 188

Some Important Emotions 190

Happiness 190 Anger 194 Tradeoffs: Affect Intensity, or the Joys of Feeling Nothing 195

Guilt and Shame 197 Why Do We Have Emotions? 200 Emotions Promote Belongingness 200 Emotions Cause Behavior—Sort Of 201 Food for Thought: Mood and Food 202

Emotions Guide Thinking and Learning 203 (Anticipated) Emotion Guides Decisions and Choices 204 Emotions Help and Hurt Decision Making 205 Positive Emotions Counteract Negative Emotions 206 Other Benefits of Positive Emotions 206 Individual Differences in Emotion 207 Are Emotions Different Across Cultures? 207 Are Women More Emotional Than Men? 209




Arousal, Attention, and Performance 211 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) 212 Affect Regulation 214

How to Cheer Up 214 Affect Regulation Goals 215 Gender Differences in Emotion Control Strategies 215 Is It Safe? 216 What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective 217

Chapter Summary 218

7 Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency 223 What Are Attitudes and Why Do People Have Them? 225

Attitudes Versus Beliefs 226 Dual Attitudes 226 Why People Have Attitudes 227 Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Optimism, Pessimism—and Life and Death 228

How Attitudes Are Formed 229

Formation of Attitudes 229 Polarization 230 Consistency 232 Heider’s P-O-X Theory 232 Cognitive Dissonance and Attitude Change 233 Food for Thought: Would You Eat a Bug or a Worm? 236

Do Attitudes Really Predict Behaviors? 238

Attacking Attitudes 238 Defending Attitudes 239 The Social Side of Sex: A–B Inconsistency and Erotic Plasticity 240

Conclusion: Attitudes in Action 240 Beliefs and Believing 241 Believing Versus Doubting 241 Belief Perseverance 242 Belief and Coping 242 Religious Belief 245 Irrational Belief 245 What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective 246

Chapter Summary 247


8 Prosocial Behavior: Doing What’s Best for Others 251 What Is Prosocial Behavior? 254

Born to Reciprocate 255 Born to Be Fair 256 Your Fair Share 258 Tragedy of the Commons 258 Hoarding 259 Cooperation, Forgiveness, Obedience, and Conformity 260 Cooperation 260 Tradoffs: The Prisoner’s Dilemma 261

Forgiveness 262 Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Moral and Immoral 263

Obedience 264 Conformity 266 Food for Thought: Restaurants, Rules, and the Bad Taste of Nonconformity 268

Why Do People Help Others? 268

Evolutionary Benefits 269 Two Motives for Helping: Altruism and Egoism 270 Is Altruism Possible? 272 Who Helps Whom? 273 Helpful Personality 274 Similarity 274 Gender 274 The Social Side of Sex: Helping, Sex, and Friends 275

Beautiful Victims 275 Belief in a Just World 276 Emotion and Mood 277 Bystander Helping in Emergencies 277 Five Steps to Helping 278 Too Busy to Help? 281 How Can We Increase Helping? 282 Getting Help in a Public Setting 282 Educate Others 282 Provide Helpful Models 282 Teach Moral Inclusion 283 What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective 284

Chapter Summary 285




9 Aggression and Antisocial Behavior 289 Tradeoffs: Is Military Action an Effective Way to Fight Terrorism? 291

Defining Aggression and Antisocial Behavior 292 Is Aggression Innate or Learned? 296

Instinct Theories 296 Learning Theories 297 Nature and Nurture 298 Inner Causes of Aggression 299 Frustration 299 Being in a Bad Mood 300 Hostile Cognitive Biases 301 Age and Aggression 301 Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: The Magnitude Gap 302

Gender and Aggression 302 Interpersonal Causes of Aggression 303 Selfishness and Influence 303 Domestic and Relationship Violence: Hurting Those We Love The Social Side of Sex: Sexual Aggression 305

Displacement 306 External Causes of Aggression 307 Weapons Effect 307 Mass Media 308 Unpleasant Environments 308 Chemical Influences 309 Food for Thought: Is There a Link Between Diet and Violence? 311 Self and Culture 312

Norms and Values 312 Self-Control 312 Wounded Pride 313 Culture of Honor 314 Other Antisocial Behavior 316 Cheating 317 Stealing 317 Littering 318 What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective 319

Chapter Summary 320



10 Attraction and Exclusion 325 The Need to Belong 327

Belongingness as a Basic Need


Tradeoffs: Testosterone—A Blessing and a Curse 328

Two Ingredients to Belongingness 331 Not Belonging Is Bad for You 331 Best Friends, Lovers, and . . . 332 Attraction: Who Likes Whom? 332 Similarity, Complementarity, Oppositeness 333 Social Rewards: You Make Me Feel Good 335 Tit for Tat: Reciprocity and Liking 335 You Again: Mere Exposure 337 Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Neighbors Make Friends— and Enemies 338

Looking Good


The Social Side of Sex: What Is Beauty? 340

Rejection 341

Effects of Rejection: Inner Reactions


Food for Thought: Social Rejection and the Jar of Cookies

Behavioral Effects of Rejection 345 Loneliness 346 What Leads to Social Rejection? 347 Romantic Rejection and Unrequited Love


What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective 351

Chapter Summary 352

11 Close Relationships: Passion, Intimacy, and Sexuality 357 What Is Love? 360

Passionate and Companionate Love 360 Love and Culture 361 Love Across Time 362 Tradeoffs: Sex In and Out of Marriage 363

Sternberg’s Triangle 364 Different Types of Relationships 365 Exchange Versus Communal 365 Attachment 367 Loving People Who Love Themselves 370 Maintaining Relationships 372 I Love You More Each Day (?) 372 Investment Model 372 Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Good and Bad Relationship Partners 373

Thinking Styles of Couples 374





Being Yourself: Is Honesty the Best Policy? Sexuality 378 Theories of Sexuality 379 Sex and Gender 381


Food for Thought: Eating in Front of a Cute Guy 384

Homosexuality 384 Extradyadic Sex 385 Jealousy and Possessiveness 389 Culture, Female Sexuality, and the Double Standard


What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective 395

Chapter Summary 397

12 Prejudice and Intergroup Relations 401 Common Prejudices and Targets

Arabs 406 People Who Are Overweight



Food for Thought: Prejudice Against the Obese 408



The Social Side of Sex: Roots of Anti-Gay Prejudice 410

Why Prejudice Exists 411

Us Versus Them: Groups in Competition


Tradeoffs: Competition Versus Cooperation 415

Ignorance? The Contact Hypothesis 416 Rationalizations for Oppression 417 Stereotypes as Heuristics 417 Prejudice and Self-Esteem 418 Content of Prejudice and Stereotypes 419 Accuracy of Stereotypes: Kernels of Truth? 420 Are Stereotypes Always Negative? 420 Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Why Aren’t There More Good Stereotypes? 421

Inner Processes 421 Overcoming Stereotypes, Reducing Prejudice 424

Conscious Override 425 Contact 428 Superordinate Goals 428 Impact of Prejudice on Targets 429 Self-Fulfilling and Self-Defeating Prophecies 430 Stigma and Self-Protection 432 Stereotype Threat 434 What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective 436

Chapter Summary 436


13 Social Influence and Persuasion 441 Two Types of Social Influence 444

Being Liked: Normative Influence 444 Being Correct: Informational Influence 445 Techniques of Social Influence 446 Techniques Based on Commitment and Consistency 446 Techniques Based on Reciprocation 449 Techniques Based on Scarcity 451 Techniques Based on Capturing and Disrupting Attention 452 Persuasion 453 Who: The Source 454 Food for Thought: Convert Communicators and Health Messages 456

Says What: The Message


The Social Side of Sex: Scared into Safe Sex? 458

To Whom: The Audience


Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Negative Political Campaigning 460

Two Routes to Persuasion 462 Alpha and Omega Strategies 465 Resisting Persuasion 468 Attitude Inoculation 468 Forewarned Is Forearmed 469 Stockpile Resources 470 Defenses Against Influence Techniques 470 What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective 472

Chapter Summary 473

14 Groups 477 What Groups Are and Do 480 Tradeoffs: Diversity in Groups 482 Groups, Roles, and Selves 483 Group Action 485

Social Facilitation 485 Social Loafing 487 Food for Thought: Eating Together Versus Alone 488

Punishing Cheaters and Free Riders 489 Deindividuation and Mob Violence 490 Shared Resources and the Commons Dilemma 491 Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Acceptance Versus Rejection by Groups 492

How Groups Think 492

Brainstorming, and the Wisdom of Groups





Why Do People Love Teams? 494 Transactive Memory: Here, You Remember This 495 Groupthink 495 Foolish Committees 497 Group Polarization and the “Risky Shift” 497 Power and Leadership 498 Leadership 499 What Is Power? 500 Effects of Power on Leader 500 Effects of Power on Followers 503 Legitimate Leadership 503 What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective 504

Chapter Summary 505

Application Modules

A Applying Social Psychology to Consumer Behavior A1 Traci Y. Craig, University of Idaho

B Applying Social Psychology to Health B1 Regan A.R. Gurung, University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

C Applying Social Psychology to Law C1 Margaret Bull Kovera, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

D Applying Social Psychology to the Environment D1 Richard L. Miller, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Glossary G1 References R1 Name Index N1 Subject Index S1



his textbook is simultaneously an expression of love and rebellion. The love is our feeling toward our field. We followed different paths into social psychology, but over the years we have developed an affectionate appreciation for it. We agreed to write this textbook partly because we thought we could contribute to the field by covering what we love about it. The process of writing has strengthened those positive feelings, by helping us see the remarkably diverse and creative work that our fellow psychologists have produced over the past few decades. The rebellion part begins with the title. Maybe social psychology has sold itself short by clinging to the message “it’s all about situations!” We think it’s partly about situations, but to us social psychology is very much about people. We think students sign up for social psychology courses because they want to learn about people. And we think social psychologists actually have plenty to tell them about people. Hence the “human nature” part of our title. In other words, we are rebelling against the old dogma that social psychology’s truth requires treating people as blank slates who just respond to situations. Instead, we see people as highly complex, exquisitely designed, and variously inclined cultural animals who respond to situations. Our textbook will tell students plenty about the power of situations, but it also seeks to tell them about the people in them. To us, the most exciting aspect of this project has been the attempt to “put the person back together,” in the phrase that got us started on the book. We believe that social psychology can offer a remarkably new, coherent, and accurate vision of human nature. In fact, this new vision of human nature was central to the story behind the book. Both of us had been approached many times by various publishers about possibly writing a textbook, and both of us had repeatedly brushed them off as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Back then we thought that writing a textbook sounded like a tedious, uncreative set of chores requiring reading and describing every part of the field, regardless of how interesting. Both of us loathe anything that is boring. The turning point came when one of us spent a year at an interdisciplinary institute and embraced the task of trying to package what social psychology has learned that could be useful to other fields. Scholars in those fields mostly want to know about people and why they act as they do. The response to this took the form of a book for general audiences (The Cultural Animal, Baumeister, 2005), but the realization slowly dawned that this new, more integrated understanding of the human being might provide a powerful basis for a textbook. We have used many different textbooks in our own social psychology courses. Many of them are quite good. One dissatisfaction with them, however, and indeed one that we have heard echoed by many other instructors and students, is that they end up being just narrative lists of findings grouped by topic. We wanted more. We wanted an integrated, coherent vision. And now we had a basis in the form of a new understanding of human nature that put together the results of thousands of social psychology studies. So this time when publishers asked about writing a textbook, we thought it over. And then we decided to do it. Some might think that explaining human nature isn’t the job of social psychology and should be left to the personality psychologists. In our view, personality’s claim to that question is not naturally any stronger than social psychology’s. After all, personality psychologists mainly study differences between people, and so understanding the patterns common to all isn’t any more likely to arise from those data than from social psychology’s. Au contraire, learning about how people in general will respond to xvii



ordinary social dilemmas and events is at least as promising as studying individual differences in terms of being able to point toward general patterns of human nature. Most general theories about human nature agonize over the competing explanations based on evolution and cultural influence. Our synthesis is based on the question “What sort of picture of the human being emerges from the results of thousands of social psychology experiments?” The answer is novel: Nature “made” human beings for culture. That is, we think human beings evolved specifically to belong to these complicated, information-using social systems that we call culture. Our book has many themes that are mentioned occasionally in the various chapters to tie things together, and these are mostly derived from the theme of human beings as cultural animals. The theme of putting people first is a subtle way of conveying what is biologically unique about humans: whereas most animals get what they need from their physical environment, we get what we need from each other. This message was implicit even in the classic Asch conformity experiments, in which people would disregard the direct evidence of their physical senses in order to go along with what other people (even a collection of strangers!) were saying. Another central theme is that inner processes serve interpersonal functions. The conventional wisdom in psychology, going back to its Freudian roots, has been more or less that what happens to people is a result of what’s inside them. We think the research in social psychology points toward the need to turn that on its head. What is inside people is a result of what happens between them. Even in terms of what evolution has built into the human psyche, what is there inside the person is there to help people thrive in their social and cultural groups. People are built to relate to other people. Even the “self,” much discussed and invoked throughout social psychology, is designed to cultivate social acceptance and other forms of success that are valued in human cultures. This is not a book about evolution, nor is it a book about cultural differences. It is a book about people. Toward that end, we occasionally use insights that emerge from cultural and evolutionary studies. But those remain mostly on the sidelines. We differ from the evolutionists in that we focus more on how humans are different than how they are the same from other animals. We differ from the cultural psychologists in that we focus more on what cultures have in common than on how they differ. These are differences of emphasis, but they are fundamental and large ones. The bottom line, for us, is a very positive view of human nature. Over the years, many of the major theories about people have emphasized the negative. They have depicted people as dominated by violent, destructive urges or by strivings for power, as souped-up rats in societal Skinner boxes, as spineless beings at the mercy of giant social forces or willy-nilly situational influences. We have been persuaded partly by the positive psychology movement that psychology loses much of value when it focuses overly on the negative side. And, heck, we like people. So the integrated picture we offer is a generally positive one, though we give the dark side its due. Hence one important feature of this book is that every chapter ends with a brief section entitled “What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective” that provides a quick review of what answers have emerged in that chapter. These were easy to write because we really do see that human social life is remarkably and importantly different from that of other animals. We do not shrink from discussing the flaws and biases in humanity, and we acknowledge its vast capacity for petty malice and occasional capacity for great evil. But we think the final picture is mostly favorable. These end-of-chapter sections offer a brief reflection on what is special about human nature.

Concept Features When we embarked on this book we listened long and hard to the complaints that fellow teachers of social psychology had regarding their textbooks and the way the field

Concept Features


was taught. We also listened to the feedback from many students. Several features of our textbook are directly influenced by this feedback. We have sought to offer a new, positive alternative. The most common complaint, of course, was the lack of integration. Many instructors, and even those who liked their particular textbook, still felt that textbooks merely hopped from one finding and one phenomenon to another without any broad vision. Hence at the end of the term, as one colleague put it, the take-home message was “Social psychology is a large, interesting, and diverse field of study.” Our overarching goal of putting the person back together was a direct response to this complaint and is, in our view, the defining feature of our book. The themes that run through the book help to flesh this out. These are developed in Chapter 2, “Culture and Nature,” which we regard as the theoretical foundation of the book. We recommend that instructors assign this chapter early in the semester. The subsequent chapters can be taught in almost any order. Thus, the book is not a linear sequence in which each chapter builds on the preceding one. We deliberately rejected that approach because we know many instructors like to adapt the sequence of topics to their own schedules, goals, and plans. Instead, the design of this book is like a wheel. Chapter 2 (and perhaps the introductory remarks in Chapter 1) is the center, and all the other chapters are spokes. Most chapters contain four box feature inserts. Although many textbooks have boxes, we are especially pleased with our set and expect them to be student favorites. We began with a fairly long list of possible boxes and gradually, based on input and feedback from students and instructors, trimmed these down to the list of four that run through the chapters.

Food for Thought One box in every chapter has to do with eating. One of us recalls a conversation years ago with Peter Herman, who observed that “Eating is the perfect social psychology variable, because it is connected to almost every social variable or process you can think of!” As we researched the various chapters and thought about the findings, we came to see he was right, and so each chapter has a box that covers some findings showing how the chapter’s topic influences or is influenced by eating. We thought this would be especially appealing to today’s students, for whom college often presents a novel set of challenges and opportunities for eating, dieting, drinking, and related concerns. Eating is a microcosm of social processes. Following are the Food For Thought topics included in the book: Does Chicken Soup Reduce Cold Symptoms? (Chapter 1) Virtuous Vegetarians (Chapter 2) Eating Binges and Escaping the Self (Chapter 3) Dieting as Self-Regulation (Chapter 4) It’s the Thought That Counts (or Doesn’t Count!) the Calories (Chapter 5) Mood and Food (Chapter 6) Would You Eat a Bug or a Worm? (Chapter 7) Restaurants, Rules, and the Bad Taste of Nonconformity (Chapter 8) Is There a Link Between Diet and Violence? (Chapter 9) Social Rejection and the Jar of Cookies (Chapter 10) Eating in Front of a Cute Guy (Chapter 11) Prejudice Against the Obese (Chapter 12) Convert Communicators and Health Messages (Chapter 13) Eating Together Versus Alone (Chapter 14) Fostering Healthy Eating (Module B)



The Social Side of Sex The same can be said for sex, and so each chapter has a box applying social psychology to sexuality. We suspect that few people leave college with their sexual selves unchanged since arrival, and so students’ natural and personal interest in sexuality can be useful for illuminating many perspectives and patterns in social psychology. Our emphasis is, of course, not on the mechanics or techniques of sex but rather on the social context and influences, which the field of sexuality has often underappreciated. It is also helpful that human sexual behavior is a vivid, dramatic example of something that shows powerful influences of both nature and culture. Following are The Social Side of Sex topics included in the book: Sex and Culture (Chapter 2) Self-Esteem and Saying No to Sex (Chapter 3) Gender, Sex, and Decisions (Chapter 4) Counting Sex Partners (Chapter 5) Can People Be Wrong About Whether They Are Sexually Aroused? (Chapter 6) A-B Inconsistency and Erotic Plasticity (Chapter 7) Helping, Sex, and Friends (Chapter 8) Sexual Aggression (Chapter 9) What Is Beauty? (Chapter 10) Roots of Anti-Gay Prejudice (Chapter 12) Scared Into Safe Sex? (Chapter 13) Sex for Sale (Module A) Increasing Condom Use and Safe Sex Practices (Module B)

Tradeoffs A third box presents tradeoffs. With this, we attempt to stimulate critical thinking. Many students come to social psychology wanting to find ways to change the world and solve its problems. We applaud that idealism, but we also think that many problems have their origin in the basic truth that solving one problem sometimes creates another. Many social psychology findings highlight tradeoffs in which each gain comes with a loss. We hope that the students will come away from these boxes with a heightened integrative capacity to see both sides of many problems and behaviors. Following are the Tradeoffs topics included in the book: Political Tradeoffs (Chapter 2) Self-Handicapping (Chapter 3) Now Versus Tomorrow: Delay of Gratification (Chapter 4) Affect Intensity, or the Joys of Feeling Nothing (Chapter 6) The Prisoner’s Dilemma (Chapter 8) Is Military Action an Effective Way to Fight Terrorism? (Chapter 9) Testosterone—A Blessing and a Curse (Chapter 10) Sex In and Out of Marriage (Chapter 11) Competition Versus Cooperation (Chapter 12) Negative Political Campaigning (Chapter 13) Diversity in Groups (Chapter 14) Wrongful Convictions vs. Protecting Victims (Module C) The Tragedy of the Commons (Module D)

Is Bad Stronger Than Good? The fourth box asks “Is bad stronger than good?” In our view, the greater impact of bad than good things is a common theme that has emerged from many different lines of social psychology research—in health, in impression formation, in emotion, in decisionmaking, in close relationships, and more. The power of bad events is even being embraced by researchers in positive psychology, because it entails the need for good to

Pedagogical Features


triumph by force of numbers. It is precisely because one bad deed can do so much damage to a close relationship that partners need to do many good deeds. We hope students will find this a useful practical lesson about life as well as an intriguing clue about human nature. Following are the Is Bad Stronger Than Good? topics included in the book: Bad, Good, and Positive Psychology (Chapter 2) Basking and Blasting (Chapter 3) Choices, Frames, and Avoiding (Chapter 4) Good News and Bad News (Chapter 5) Names for Emotions (Chapter 6) Optimism, Pessimism—and Life and Death (Chapter 7) Moral and Immoral (Chapter 8) The Magnitude Gap (Chapter 9) Neighbors Make Friends—and Enemies (Chapter 10) Good and Bad Relationship Partners (Chapter 11) Why Aren’t There More Good Stereotypes? (Chapter 12) Negative Political Campaigning (Chapter 13) Acceptance versus Rejection by Groups (Chapter 14) Environmental Inaction (Module D) Other themes run through the book without being formally reflected in specific boxes. The “duplex mind,” divided into the automatic/nonconscious and the controlled/conscious sets of processes, has become a powerful theme in the field’s thinking about a great many issues, and we want students to appreciate it. It is a profound insight into how the human mind is organized. “The long road to social acceptance” reflects how much work humans have to do to gain and keep their places in their social networks. “Nature says go, culture says stop” was not on our original list of themes but kept coming up as we wrote, and so we went back to revise our earlier chapters to recognize this one common way that nature and culture interact to shape human behavior.

Pedagogical Features Our book has also benefited from input and suggestions for what can help students master the material. We have kept what has worked well in other textbooks, such as including glossaries, tables, and illustrations. Each chapter also ends with a “Chapter Summary,” where we present lists of bullet points summarizing key content in the chapter. A more novel feature of our textbook is the inclusion of many self-quizzes. Each major header in each chapter ends with a series of multiple-choice questions. These were wildly popular with students in our preliminary trials. We can understand why many books don’t include them—they were an immense amount of work to prepare— but we think the effort was worth it. Every time students finish reading a section of a chapter, they can get a quick check on how well they understood it by answering those questions and verifying whether their answers are correct. Another exciting feature of this book is the set of application modules that can be assigned according to instructor preference. It is possible to get the book printed with or without these modules, or indeed with any combination of them. The four included with this first edition are: (Module A) Applying Social Psychology to Consumer Behavior, (Module B) Applying Social Psychology to Health, (Module C) Applying Social Psychology to Law, and (Module D) Applying Social Psychology to the Environment. A fifth bonus module, titled Applying Social Psychology to the Workplace (Module E), will be available on-line or as a printed module that you can order with your text. These modules enable an instructor to tailor a course that can encompass some of the most important applied fields of study that have had long, close relationships with social psychology.



More With Less When we embarked on this textbook, we made “doing more with less” one of our guiding mottos. As we saw it, social psychology was approaching a turning point. The early textbooks often went into lively detail about many specific studies. That was possible because back then there wasn’t a great deal of material to cover. Since then, the body of knowledge in the field has expanded year by year, with new findings being continuously documented in established journals along with new journals that have joined the crowd. It is no longer possible to cover all the influential studies in great detail. Some textbooks have responded to information overload by packing more and more findings into the same amount of space. This plainly cannot go on forever. Either textbooks have to get longer and longer, or they have to become more and more selective. We chose the latter course. As things turned out, we were able to cover most of what has become standard in textbooks. But we do not claim or pretend to be exhaustive. Our model for this is introductory psychology. Once upon a time, perhaps, introductory textbooks could provide a comprehensive overview of psychology, but it has by now become standard practice for them merely to select a few topics for each chapter to illustrate rather than fully cover what that field has to offer. We think social psychology is reaching the same point and that the way forward is to accept the impossibility of covering it all. To be sure, the review process did push us to be more thorough. One thing experts are very good at is saying, “Well, you could also cover X,” and we heeded many such comments from our expert reviewers. But our goal all along has been to offer students an in-depth look at some information, with all its implications and connections highlighted, rather than to make sure to cite every relevant study. We hope instructors will add their personal favorites to the lectures, to augment what we have included. But to keep the book to a manageable length and still do justice to our goals, we had to leave out many important and worthy studies. Even some large topics ended up getting short shrift. Most notably, we devote fairly little space to the social neuroscience work that has become an important theme in the field. We don’t dispute its importance. We simply think it is not what is best for introductory students. Our recommendation is that universities offer a subsequent course that can focus on brain processes and their link to social behavior. For the first course, we think students would prefer to learn about the more familiar and more readily understood questions about how people think, feel, and act in recognizable social situations.

Content Overview Chapter 1: The Mission and the Method The opening chapter explains what social psychologists do and why students may want to learn about it. It explains social psychology’s place among the different fields that study human behavior. It offers a brief introduction to the methods social psychologists use to tell the difference between right and wrong theories.

Chapter 2: Culture and Nature Chapter 2 sets up the big picture. How do we explain people? Departing from the old and tired battle of nature against nurture, this book follows a newly emerging understanding: nature and culture worked together, such that nature designed the human being to be capable of culture. The stock notion of “the social animal” is shown to be correct but far too limited, whereas the “cultural animal” captures what is special about human beings. This chapter then sets up many of the integrative themes that will run through the book to help make sense of the many facts and findings that will be covered.

Content Overview


Chapter 3: The Self The human self is a complex and marvelous participant in the social world. This chapter provides a coherent understanding of the human self that is based on both classic and recent research in social psychology.

Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action The self is not just an idea but also a doer. This chapter covers key social psychology topics of choice, decision-making, self-regulation, and the psychology of action. The remarkable recent progress in this work lends extra excitement to this material.

Chapter 5: Social Cognition Social cognition revolutionized social psychology in the 1980s. Now it has settled into a core basis for understanding many spheres of social life. Cognition is vital to cultural animals, because cultures operate on the basis of information. This is a showcase for many of the great achievements of social psychology.

Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect Studying emotion has proven much harder than studying cognition, and so Chapter 6 cannot compare with Chapter 5 in being able to point to a solid body of accepted knowledge. Despite that, much has been learned, and the “work in progress” flavor of the social psychology of emotion—combined with the natural human interest in emotion that students can readily share—should make this chapter an appealing read.

Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency The study of attitudes has a long and distinguished history in social psychology. This chapter brings together the influential early, classic studies with the latest advances.

Chapter 8: Prosocial Behavior: Doing What’s Best for Others In this chapter, we look at what people do in order to make possible the success of their cultural and social groups. Many textbooks have a chapter on helping. We cover helping in this chapter, but the broad focus is on all prosocial behavior. The integrative focus helps resolve some long-running debates, such as whether helping is genuinely altruistic and prosocial or merely egoistic and selfish. We also break with the Milgram tradition of depicting obedience and conformity as bad, because culture and thus human social life would collapse without them.

Chapter 9: Aggression and Antisocial Behavior Just as Chapter 8 replaced the traditional, narrow focus on helping with a broader focus on prosocial behavior, this chapter replaces the traditional focus on aggression with a broader treatment of antisocial behavior. Aggression is treated here as a holdover from the social animal stage—which is why cultures mainly struggle to reduce and prevent aggression, favoring nonviolent means of resolving conflicts. Other antisocial behaviors covered include cheating, stealing, and littering.

Chapter 10: Attraction and Exclusion This chapter combines two very different but complementary sets of findings. The study of interpersonal attraction has a long history and, despite the occasional new finding, is a fairly well-established body of knowledge. The study of interpersonal rejection is far more recent but has become a thriving, fast-moving area. Together they constitute the two sides of the coin of people trying to connect with each other.



Chapter 11: Close Relationships: Passion, Intimacy, and Sexuality In its first decades, social psychology mainly studied interactions among strangers— but most social life involves ongoing relationships. The study of close, intimate relationships blossomed in the 1980s from a small, underappreciated corner into a profound and exciting enterprise that changed the field. This chapter covers this work, much of it quite recent. It emphasizes romantic and sexual relationships, showcasing what social psychology has contributed to understanding of these grand, perennial human dramas. Human romance and sex are eternal problems that reveal our evolutionary background but also highlight the many striking ways in which humans are unique.

Chapter 12: Prejudice and Intergroup Relations Prejudice occurs all over the world, often contributing to violence and oppression and other forms of misery. This chapter examines the many forms and faces of prejudice, ranging from the standard topics of racism and sexism to the less remarked prejudices against obese people, Arabs and Muslims, and homosexuals. Special emphasis is given to the emerging and uplifting work on how people overcome prejudice.

Chapter 13: Social Influence and Persuasion Social influence and attempted persuasion are deeply woven into the fabric of human social life, and indeed it is the rare social interaction that has absolutely none. As information-using cultural animals, humans often find themselves wanting to influence others or being the targets of influence. This chapter covers how people exert that influence, why they do,—and how sometimes people manage to resist influence.

Chapter 14: Groups All over the world, human beings live in small groups. This chapter takes a fresh and exciting look at the social psychology of groups. The first part addresses one often-overlooked but basic question, namely why are some groups more and others less than the sum of their parts? Classic material on group processes is mixed with new and exciting research.

Supplements Annotated Instructor’s Edition. Mary Johannesen-Schmidt, Oakton Community College. On nearly every page of this limited quantity instructor edition, instructors will find annotations—25-30 annotations per chapter. Three kinds of tips appear: Teaching Tips, Discussion Tips, and Technology Tips. The technology tips direct instructors to specific websites. Exact URLs for the websites are available on the back inside cover endsheets and also at the instructor’s companion website. Instructor’s Resource Manual. Jennifer S. Feenstra, Northwestern College. Each chapter of the manual includes the following elements: ●

● ● ●

List of learning objectives. Statements that clarify what a student should know, understand or be able to do after mastering the chapter content. Chapter outline. Very detailed review of the chapter. Key terms list. Ideas for instruction. At least three of the elements below for each major section. ● Lecture/Discussion ideas. Substantial prompts that provide helpful ways to address topics in text, cover topics tangential to what is in text, or provide alternative examples to what are presented in the text. Organized by major section.

Supplements ● ●

● ●


Class Activity/Demonstration ideas. Substantial prompts for in-class activities. Student projects/homework. Short and longer term assignments. Substantial prompts for projects that students can do on their own as out-of-class assignments, or short-term projects. Organized by major section. Annotated list of suggested readings/videos/websites. Think/Pair/Share questions for each chapter of the text.

The Instructor’s Resource Manual also includes an Introduction with the following features: ● ● ● ● ● ●

Overview of how the Manual works. Overview of entire supplements package. Ideas for “day-one” activities. Sample syllabi. Ideas for semester-long projects that include detailed instructions. Resource Integration Guide.

Print Test Bank and ExamView. Hillary Haley, University of California, Los Angeles. For each chapter of the text, the print test bank includes the following features: ● ● ● ● ●

125 Multiple-Choice questions 10 True-False questions 10 Fill-in questions Five short essay questions Each question is coded with the following information: answer, difficulty level, question type, learning objective, and main-text page reference. Feature boxes and student CD are represented in questions.

ExamView is computerized test-creation software on CD populated with all of the content from the Print Test Bank. Preview Edition Test Bank. Nicole L. Mead, Florida State University. For each chapter of the text, the preview edition test bank includes 25 multiple choice questions. The Preview Edition Test Bank is available through Ebank in Microsoft Word form. Multimedia Manager Instructor’s Resource DVD-ROM (with demo CD available). Robin Musselman, Lehigh Carbon Community College. This expansive DVD-ROM includes classic video footage as well as exciting new social psychology video clips exclusive to this text. The Instructor DVD also includes PowerPoint lecture outlines and teaching tips embedded in “notes” and core text figures, photos, and extensive video clips. Exclusive “Author Lecture Launcher Videos” feature Baumeister and Bushman explaining key topics—“Why I Decided to Become a Social Psychologist,” “Humans are Social and Cultural Animals,” “What is Emotion?,” “Effective Ways to Reduce Anger,” “Public Self vs. Private Self,” “Self-Esteem,” and “Self-Control and SelfRegulation.” Exclusive Wadsworth social psychology research videos introduce your students to a range of contemporary researchers such as Claude Steele, Craig Anderson, Vicki Helgeson, Roy Baumeister, Melanie Green, Greg Herek, Jeanne Tsai, Mahzarin Banaji, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, and Richard Moreland, among others. Instructors will find “ready-to-go” PowerPoints with embedded graphics and videos, as well as separate asset files so that they can tailor their own lecture presentations. The DVD also includes electronic files for the print test bank and instructor’s resource manual. *The robust Multimedia Manager Instructor’s Resource DVD-ROM is available to instructors upon adoption. To see a preview of the video and lecture presentation tools described here, please contact your local Thomson/Wadsworth representative to get a review copy of the demo Instructor CD-ROM which includes assets from select chapters.



ABC Social Psychology Videos High interest video clips from ABC covering various Social Psychology topics such as the Self-Esteem Movement, Venting Aggression and more. JoinIn on TurningPoint. Traci Y. Craig, University of Idaho. Interactive classroom response software (based on the PowerPoint platform) on CD with text-specific content. Content for CD includes select video clips with thought-provoking questions, pre- and post-test questions designed to elicit student attitudes and conceptions before and after reading a given chapter, and instructional ideas for additional ways to utilize JoinIn embedded in “notes.” Classic and Contemporary Videos Student CD-ROM. High-interest video clips of classic and contemporary social psychology research. ThomsonNow for Baumeister and Bushman’s Social Psychology and Human Nature. Multiple-choice pre- and post-tests that generate study plans for students. Student review of concepts is enhanced through interactive media modules. Applying Social Psychology to Your Life: Personal Surveys. Includes instruments to gauge student attitudes for each chapter. Study Guide. Kristin Beals, California State University-Fullerton. Each chapter of the study guide has four main parts: (a) Chapter Review, (b) Chapter Test, (c) Suggested Readings, and (d) Answer Key. The Chapter Review part is organized around the major sections of the chapter. For each major section four elements are provided: ● ● ● ●

Snapshot: One or two sentence overview of that particular section. Learning Objectives. Understanding the Terminology matching exercise. Summary: Formatted as a fill-in-the-blank exercise.

The Chapter Test part covers all the major sections of the chapter. The Chapter Test includes the following elements:, Multiple-choice questions, True-false questions, and short-essay questions. The Suggested Reading part includes a list of additional resources that students can read for additional information. Cultural Animal Reader. Joshua Feinberg, Saint Peter’s College. Reader contains full text articles that relate to the overarching book themes with critical thinking questions for each chapter. Webtutor Toolbox on WebCT and Blackboard. Online course management program. Book Companion Website. Text-specific content for each chapter including glossary, flash cards, multiple-choice quizzing, weblinks, and more. Mobile Content. Downloadable audio and video files to help students study and review.



Acknowledgments Editorial Board We are grateful to the members of the editorial board for their guidance and suggestions. Bruce Bartholow, University of Missouri Jennifer Crocker, University of Michigan Wendi Gardner, Northwestern University Cheryl Kaiser, University of Washington Marc Kiviniemi, University of Nebraska–Lincoln Daniel Molden, Northwestern University Richard Ryan, University of Rochester Kennon M. Sheldon, University of Missouri Jeff Sherman, University of California–Davis Jean Twenge, San Diego State University Kathleen Vohs, University of Minnesota

Content Area Expert Reviewers We thank our colleagues for providing their expertise on specific chapters. Their comments sharpened and improved these chapters. Craig A. Anderson, Iowa State University James R. Averill, University of Massachusetts–Amherst Donal E. Carlston, Carlston, Purdue University Eddie M. Clark, St. Louis University William D. Crano, Claremont Graduate University Wind Goodfriend, Boise State University Anne K. Gordon, Bowling Green State University Michael Hogg, University of Queensland Marc Kiviniemi, University of Nebraska–Lincoln Mark K. Leary, Wake Forest University George Levinger, University of Massachusetts–Amherst Norman Miller, University of Southern California Todd D. Nelson, California State University–Stanislaus Laurie O'Brien, University of California–Santa Barbara B. Keith Payne, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill Louis A. Penner, Wayne State University Cynthia L. Pickett, University of California–Davis Deborah Richardson, Augusta State University Brandon J. Schmeichel, Texas A&M University Peter B. Smith, University of Sussex Jeff Stone, University of Arizona Duane T. Wegener, Purdue University Kipling D. Williams, Purdue University

Manuscript Reviewers We thank our colleagues for their diligent and thoughtful readings of early drafts of these chapters. Their suggestions pointed the way to make this a better book. Nancy L. Ashton, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Melissa Atkins, Marshall University Kevin Bennett, Pennsylvania State University–Beaver

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John Bickford, University of Massachusetts–Amherst Kurt Boniecki, University of Central Arkansas Thomas Britt, Clemson University Jonathan Brown, University of Washington Jeff Bryson, San Diego State University Shawn Burn, California Polytechnic State University Jennifer L. Butler, Wittenberg University Keith Campbell, University of Georgia Laurie Couch, Morehead State University Traci Y. Craig, University of Idaho Janet Crawford, Rutgers University Layton Curl, Metropolitan State College of Denver Deborah Davis, University of Nevade–Reno John Davis, Texas State University–San Marcos Dorothee Dietrich, Hamline University Nancy Dye, Humboldt State University Sarah Estow, Dartmouth College Jennifer Feenstra, Northwestern College Joe R. Ferrari, DePaul University Lisa Finkelstein, Northern Illinois University Phil Finney, Southeast Missouri State University Wendi Gardner, Northwestern University Bryan Gibson Central Michigan University Tom Gilovich, Cornell University Traci Giuliano, Southwestern University Wind Goodfriend, Boise State University Elizabeth Gray, Northpark University Jeffrey D. Green, Soka University Hillary Haley, Santa Monica College Darlene Hannah, Wheaton College Judith Harackiewicz, University of Wisconsin Lora Harpster, Salt Lake City Community College Helen C. Harton, University of Northern Iowa Sandra Hoyt, Ohio University Jon Iuzzini, University of Tennessee–Knoxville Norine Jalbert, Western Connecticut State University Robert Johnson, Arkansas State University Deana Julka, University of Portland Patrice Karn, University of Ottawa Benjamin R. Karney, University of Florida Timothy Ketelaar, New Mexico State University Charles Kimble, University of Dayton Linda Kline, California State University–Chico Elisha Klirs, George Mason University C. Raymond Knee, University of Houston Susan Kraus, Fort Lewis College Neil Kressel, William Patterson University Joachim Kreuger, Brown University Roger Kreuz, University of Memphis Douglas Krull, Northern Kentucky University Barry Kuhle, Dickinson College Paul Kwon, Washington State University Benjamin Le, Haverford College Lisa Lockhart, University of the Incarnate Word Britton Mace, Southern Utah University Stephanie Madon, Iowa State University



Mark Muraven, State University of New York–Albany Matt Newman, Bard College Nelse Ostlund, University of Nevada–Las Vegas Stephen Phillips, Broward Community College Gregory Pool, St Mary's University Jacqueline Pope-Tarrance, Western Kentucky University Jack Powell, University of Hartford Jim Previte, Victor Valley College Mary Pritchard, Boise State University Joan Rollins, Rhode Island College Tonya Rondinone, St. Joseph College Barry R. Schlenker, University of Florida Brandon Schmeichel, Texas A&M University Sherry Schnake, Saint Mary of the Woods College Brian W. Schrader, Emporia State University Gretchen Sechrist, State University of New York–Buffalo Paul Silvia, University of North Carolina–Greensboro Royce Singleton, Holy Cross University Alexander Soldat, Idaho State University Sam Sommers, Tufts University Weylin Sternglanz, NOVA Southeastern University Jeff Stone, University of Arizona Rowena Tan, University of Northern Iowa Stephanie Tobin, University of Houston Tamara Towles-Schwen, Buffalo State College David Trafimow, New Mexico State University David Ward, Arkansas Tech University Dolores Ward, Spring Hill College Keith Williams, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Kevin Woller, Rogers State University Jennifer Yanowitz, University of Minnesota Ann Zak, College of Saint Rose

Class Test Participants We express our gratitude to the instructors (and their students) who applied early drafts of the book to real-world classroom instruction, providing essential feedback to enhance the book’s effectiveness for the best possible learning experience.

Contributors of Applying Social Psychology Modules Special thanks go to our colleagues who wrote the application modules. These are specialized topics outside our own expertise, and we could not have done these ourselves even half as well. These modules add to the breadth and flexibility of what can be taught with this textbook. Module A: Applying Social Psychology to Consumer Behavior Traci Y. Craig, University of Idaho Module B: Applying Social Psychology to Health Regan A. R. Gurung, University of Wisconsin–Green Bay Module C: Applying Social Psychology to Law Margaret Bull Kovera, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York Module D: Applying Social Psychology to the Environment Richard L. Miller, University of Nebraska at Kearney Module E: Applying Social Psychology to the Workplace University (this bonus module is available online and in printed form when specially ordered with the text) Kathy Hanisch, Iowa State University



Authors of the Supplements A textbook is far more than the book itself. We chose Wadsworth to publish our textbook in part because they showed imagination and commitment for getting a great total package to make the instructor’s life easy and the student’s experience fulfilling. We deeply appreciate the people who contributed these wonderful resources. Annotated Instructor’s Edition. Mary Johannesen-Schmidt, Oakton Community College Instructor’s Resource Manual. Jennifer S. Feenstra, Northwestern College Print Test Bank and ExamView. Hillary Haley, University of California, Los Angeles Preview Edition Test Bank. Nicole L. Mead, Florida State University Multimedia Manager Instructor’s Resource DVD-ROM. Robin Musselman, Lehigh Carbon Community College JoinIn on TurningPoint. Traci Y. Craig, University of Idaho Study Guide. Kristin Beals, California State University–Fullerton Cultural Animal Reader. Joshua Feinberg, Saint Peter’s College

Wadsworth Team This book would not have been possible without the excellent in-house team at Wadsworth. Thanks to the following people for your belief in our vision for this book:. Michele Sordi, Publisher; Jeremy Judson, Senior Development Editor; Dan Moneypenny, Managing Assistant Editor; Erin Miskelly, Editorial Assistant; Bessie Weiss, Senior Technology Project Manager; Lauren Keyes, Associate Technology Project Manager; Kimberly Russell, Executive Marketing Manager; Natasha Coats, Marketing Assistant; Roman Barnes, Photo Researcher; Mary Noel, Project Manager, Editorial Production; Vernon Boes, Art Director; and Sheila McGill and Kate Tulenson of Lachina Publishing Services. We acknowledge our appreciation and debt to this full team, but we must single out the two people who have had the most direct contact with us and who, at least from where we have sat for these several years, have made the most difference. Jeremy Judson was a patient, thoughtful, intelligent, and diplomatic development editor who was remarkably effective at steering the manuscript through the nuts and bolts of the revision process. Often he would manage to sort through a dozen or more reviews, boiling the chaotic mass of suggestions down into the key targets for improvement and managing the process with reason and good humor. Last, and most of all, we thank Michele Sordi, our wonderful publisher who signed the book in the first place and oversaw the preservation and fulfillment of its original vision (no small feat!). We shall be ever grateful for her creativity, her energy, her resourcefulness, her intelligence, and her loyal support.

Social Psychology AND HUMAN NATURE










The Mission and the Method A Brief History of Social Psychology What Do Social Psychologists Do? Social Psychology’s Place in the World Social Psychology’s Place in the Social Sciences Social Psychology’s Place Within Psychology Why People Study Social Psychology Curiosity About People Experimental Philosophy Making the World Better Social Psychology Is Fun! How Do Social Psychologists Answer Their Own Questions? Accumulated Common Wisdom Overview of the Scientific Method Scientific Theories

Food for Thought: Does Chicken Soup Reduce Cold Symptoms? Research Design How Much of Social Psychology Is True? Self-Correcting Nature of Science Reliance on Student Samples Cultural Relativity


David Sacks/Getty Images

Chapter Summary


Chapter 1: The Mission and the Method


© Peter Turnley/Corbis

Is it unrealistic to expect people to give their $4 to feed a hungry person on the other side of the world instead of purchasing one minute of phone sex?

ou are a member of a social world on a planet containing about 7 billion people. This social world is filled with paradox, mystery, suspense, and outright absurdity. Consider a few examples. In 2004, a rally for world peace was held in California. Sixteen thousand people came together from nine different countries to support the worthy cause of reducing violence and promoting harmony among all human beings. Many stayed up all night holding hands in a giant circle and praying for peace. Is it possible for human beings to live in peace? World War I was called “the war to end all wars,” but after World War II that name went out of fashion. The colossal slaughter and destruction of World War II might have taught humanity some lessons about the importance of peace, yet wars continued; one expert calculated that during the 40 years after the end of World War II there were only 11 days of world peace, defined as the absence of international wars. (Civil wars didn’t count; if you count them, there was probably no peace at all.) World peace remains even today a hope of idealists, and we must be grateful for the efforts of campaigners such as those who rallied in 2004. Yet it turns out that on the first day of the conference, several of the delegates got into an argument in the parking lot, and one beat another badly with a shovel. Why would people attending a rally for world peace want to fight and injure each other? Also consider the case of two Amish youth in Pennsylvania who were sentenced to a year in prison and five years’ probation for dealing large quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine. By their faith and culture, the Amish reject modern conveniences such as cars, colorful clothing, and even electricity with the exception of “Rumspringa,” a rite of passage that permits youths to live outside the community and experience such conveniences for a limited time. But apparently some of them (the two young people and their local customers) think modern drugs are acceptable (either that, or they want to escape from the culture) (TNC, 1999). Undoubtedly people are shaped by their culture, but the power of culture to shape individuals is also limited, as these and other examples of drugs and crime show. Or consider a more humorous example. One of the news stories that created a minor furor in 2004 concerned the traffic signals in New York City. Many intersections had buttons for pedestrians to press in order to change the signals so as to halt car traffic and activate the signal that it was safe to walk across the street. In 2004, city officials admitted that many of these buttons were not even connected properly and did not work at all. Why did they have the buttons if they didn’t work? Turning from comedy to tragedy, consider the impact of AIDS on the individual. Undoubtedly, contracting HIV (the virus that leads to AIDS) is one of the worst things that can happen to people; it increases daily stress, creates relationship problems, and may lead to an early death. Yet when social psychologists surveyed nearly 200 HIV-positive women about the impact of this deadly disease on their lives, most of them listed more benefits than costs (Updegraff, Taylor, Kemeny, & Wyatt, 2002). On balance, they said, their lives had changed more for the better than for the worse. Is HIV really a good thing to get? Or does this result indicate something remarkable about the power of the human spirit to cope with adversity and find meaning in misfortune? The Sudanese man shown in the photo, like millions of other people on this planet, is malnourished and, in his case, is starving to death. In many parts of the world, it costs $4 per month to feed a person. In the United States, it costs $4 per minute to have phone sex. Or consider something much simpler, such as taking a coffee break. If your boss told you to make 10,000 decisions before you got your first cup of coffee, you’d probably think you had a mean boss! But consider this. The Starbucks chain of coffee shops advertised that they offered 19,000 beverage options, if you count all the different coffees, teas, cold drinks, and all the things you could add to them. The recent addition of an “extra hot” option, in which the temperature of your chosen beverage is boosted by 30 degrees Fahrenheit, probably increased the number of choices to more than 25,000. In a sense, therefore, the customer who walks into

© Joel W. Rogers/Corbis

A Brief HIstory of Social Psychology

“Come on in and make a decision from 25,000 choices.”


a Starbucks shop for a morning drink is confronted with more than 25,000 decisions to make. Isn’t that just a way to torture people? Why does Starbucks make money? Why don’t their customers quit in protest? More to the point (at least for a social psychologist), how do people get by in a world that offers them thousands of options at every turn, even for the simplest decisions? Can social psychology help us make sense of the bizarre and baffling diversity of human behavior? The answer to this question is a resounding “YES!” Whether you know it or not, social psychology can also help you make sense of your own social world. The material discussed in this book is intensely relevant to your life. For example, how many of you have asked yourself something along these lines: “How can I get him to go along with my plan?” “Should I ask her right up front to do this big favor, or is there a better way to get her to say yes?” “How can I bring them around to my way of thinking?” Chances are, something in this book will prove helpful to you in the future. This is not to say that social psychology is a cookbook for how to manipulate people. But social psychology can help you understand basic principles of social influence, as well as many other principles of social behavior. And it is also just plain interesting to learn about how and why people act. The point is that there are plenty of reasons why you ought to be interested in social psychology. As your reasons for learning about social psychology become deeper, your level of understanding will become deeper, and your enjoyment will become deeper. So let’s plunge in by looking at a brief history of social psychology!

A Brief History of Social Psychology One of the first social psychology experiments was conducted by Indiana University professor Norman Triplett (1897–1898). While examining the records of the Racing Board of the League of American Wheelmen for the 1897 season, he noticed that cyclists who competed against others performed better than those who competed against the clock (see ● Figure 1.1). Triplett proposed that the presence of another rider releases the competitive instinct, which increases “nervous energy” and thereby enhances performance. Triplett tested his hypothesis by building a “competition machine.” He had 40 children wind up a fishing reel, alternating between working alone and working parallel to each other. The results showed that winding time was faster when children worked side by side than when they worked alone. Thus, the mere presence of another person enhanced performance on this simple task. Another early social psychological experiment was conducted in the 1880s by a French professor of agricultural engineering named Max Ringelmann. He had men pull on a rope alone and as part of a group, and he measured the amount of effort exerted by each participant. He found that as group size increased, individual effort decreased. These two seminal studies started a long chain of subsequent studies. Note, though, that the two studies pointed in opposite directions—one found that people worked harder in the presence of others, and the other found that people slacked off. Chapter 14 will try to resolve this seeming contradiction, but for now the point is to get used to the idea that social behavior is complicated.


Chapter 1: The Mission and the Method

● Figure 1.1 1.30 Miles time (in minutes and seconds)

Records of the Racing Board of the League of American Wheelmen for the 1897 season show that cyclists performed best when racing against others (top curve), moderately well when racing against the clock (middle curve), and worst when not racing against others or the clock (bottom curve).

W.S. 1.40 Michael 1.50 Lensa

2.00 C. 2.10



B. Senn

2.30 2.40 2.50 3.00




Lower curve, unpaced–against time. Middle curve, paced–against time. Upper curve, paced competition race.

15 Miles





The introduction of textbooks is an important milestone in the development of a field. In 1908, the first two books to bear the title Social Psychology were published, one by the sociologist Edward Ross and the other by the psychologist William McDougall. In 1924, Floyd Allport published another early social psychology book. During the early part of the 20th century, many thinkers began to ponder where human society was going and why it had changed so much. The world wars, the rise of communism and fascism, the spread of automobiles, the rapid changes in romance and sexual behavior, the rise of advertising, popular fads, the population shift from farm to city life, and shocking economic events such as the Great Depression all challenged intellectuals to wonder what were the basic laws of how people relate to each other. They began to toss about various new and big ideas, including some that would shape the thinking of early social psychologists. One idea was that modern life makes people vulnerable to alienation and exploitation by giant social systems. Another idea was that we learn who we are from other people and our interactions with them. Still another idea was that modern humans act less on the basis of firm inner moral principles than on the basis of following the crowd. Two ideas from this period stand out as having had a lasting influence on the direction social psychology took. One was Gordon Allport’s observation that attitudes were the most useful and important concept in social psychology. The study of attitudes dominated social psychology research for decades and is still centrally important today (see Chapter 7). (Allport also observed that the study of the self was going to be recognized as increasingly important in the coming years, and on that he was also quite correct; see Chapter 3.) The other key idea was Kurt Lewin’s formula that behavior is a function of the person and the situation. Thus, if you want to predict whether Lenore will finish her work on time, you need to know two kinds of things. First, you must know something about Lenore: Is she lazy? Does she like her work? Is she smart enough to get the job done? Is she punctual? Second, you must know something about her situation: Is the task hard? Are other people bothering her? Is there a penalty for being late? Is her computer broken? Knowing only one kind of information without the other is an inadequate basis for predicting what will happen. World War II stimulated a great deal of research in the social sciences, and in social psychology in particular. Several factors contributed to this rise in research. Some involved grand theoretical questions: Why did millions of citizens in a modern, civilized nation with a long tradition of religion, morality, and philosophy follow the cruel dictator Adolf Hitler in his policies that included systematic mass murder and violent invasion of neighboring countries? Other factors were more practical: Why did soldiers seem to have so many psychological problems with stress? What exactly

A Brief HIstory of Social Psychology

behaviorism theoretical approach that seeks to explain behavior in terms of learning principles, without reference to inner states, thoughts, or feelings Freudian psychoanalysis theoretical approach that seeks to explain behavior by looking at the deep unconscious forces inside the person

motivates soldiers to continue doing their duty on modern battlefields where they could be killed at any moment? Social psychology began to come into its own as a field in the 1950s and 1960s. At the time, psychology was divided between two camps. One camp, known as behaviorism, sought to explain all of psychology in terms of learning principles such as reward and punishment. Behaviorists were opposed to talking about the mind, thoughts, emotions, or other inner processes, and they favored experiments and the scientific method. The other camp was Freudian psychoanalysis, which preferred elaborate interpretations of individual experiences (especially from clinical psychology) instead of systematic studies that counted behaviors. Social psychology was not really compatible with either camp. Social psychology was more congenial to the behaviorist camp in that it favored experiments and the scientific method, but it was sympathetic to the Freudian camp with its interest in inner states and processes. For a while it sought to steer a middle course. Eventually (by the 1970s and 1980s), social psychology found its own way, using scientific approaches to measure behavior but also trying to study thoughts, feelings, and other inner states scientifically. What about the more recent past? Historians are generally uncomfortable writing about recent times, because main themes are easier to see from a distance than from up close. Still, we can make a few broad statements about the recent history of social psychology. The study of simple cognitive (mental) processes, such as attribution theory, evolved in the 1970s and 1980s into a large and sophisticated study of social cognition (how people think about people and the social world in general). This area of interest has continued up to the present. Another huge development from the 1990s onward was a growing openness to biology. The influx of biology began with evolutionary psychology, which sought to extend and apply the basic ideas of evolution to understanding human social behavior. It gained further momentum as some social psychologists began to study the brain in order to learn how its workings are related to social events. The study of the self has been another central theme of social psychology since the 1970s. It is hard to realize that in the 1960s people hardly ever used the term selfesteem or cared about it. In recent decades, social psychologists have explored many different aspects of the self—not only self-esteem but also self-regulation (also known as self-control), self-schemas, and self-presentation. The field continues to change and evolve. In the 1980s, the conflict between the so-called free world and communist totalitarian systems was the dominant conflict in the world and the main focus of conflict studies. When the Soviet empire abruptly collapsed in 1989, the study of conflict between groups refocused on racial and ethnic conflict, which in the United States meant a sharp rise of interest in prejudice and stereotyping.

A Brief History of Social Psychology


The first published social psychology experiment was conducted by what researcher? (a) Floyd Allport (b) Gordon Allport (c) Max Ringelmann (d) Norman Triplett


Who published the first social psychology textbook? (a) Floyd Allport (b) William McDougall (c) Edward Ross (d) Both (b) and (c)


Who claimed that attitudes were the most important and useful concept in social psychology? (a) Gordon Allport (b) Kurt Lewin (c) Edward Ross (d) Norman Triplett


In the 1950s and 1960s, psychology was divided between what two camps? (a) Behaviorist and (b) Behaviorist and cognitive camps psychoanalytical camps (c) Cognitive and (d) Comparative and comparative camps psychoanalytical camps

Answers: 1=d, 2=d, 3=a, 4=b

Quiz Yourself



Chapter 1: The Mission and the Method

What Do Social Psychologists Do?

social psychology branch of psychology that seeks a broad understanding of how human beings think, act, and feel

ABC triad Affect (how people feel inside), Behavior (what people do), Cognition (what people think about)

● Figure 1.2

Affect, Behavior, and Cognition are the ABCs of what social psychologists study.

You might think that social psychology focuses specifically on the study of groups or relationships. It does include those topics, but it studies much more. At present, social psychology aims for a broad understanding of how human beings think, act, and feel. It focuses particularly on normal adult human beings, though some social psychologists do study children and people who suffer from mild mental illness (such as depression). Very little of what people do, other than those with severe mental illness, is off limits to social psychology. Social psychology is concerned with the effect of other people (real or imagined) on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. These three dimensions or building blocks of social psychology are known as the ABC triad (● Figure 1.2). The A stands for Affect—how people feel inside. Social psychologists are interested in how people feel about themselves (e.g., self-esteem), how they feel about others (e.g., prejudice), and how they feel about various issues (e.g., Behavior attitudes). The B stands for Behavior—what people do, their actions. Social psychologists are interested in all the various behaviors people Affect on ti engage in, such as joining Cogni groups, helping others, hurting others, liking others, and loving others. The C stands for Cognition—what people think about. Social psychologists are interested in what people think about themselves (e.g., self-concept), what they think about others (e.g., stereotypes), and what they think about various problems and issues in the social world (e.g., protecting the environment). And as Kurt Lewin suggested many years ago, social psychologists are concerned about the effects of personal and situational influences on these ABCs. Social psychology focuses especially on the power of situations. That is, when trying to explain some pattern of behavior, the first place social psychologists generally look to is the situation. In this focus, social psychology departed from two powerful traditions in psychology. Freudian psychoanalysis sought to explain behavior by looking at the deep unconscious forces inside the person, whereas behaviorist learning theory sought to explain behavior by looking at reinforcement histories (e.g., what behaviors were previously rewarded or punished). Social psychology emphasizes how people react to the world around them and how small changes in their immediate circumstances can produce substantial changes in behavior. Another important feature of social psychology is that it embraces the scientific method. Most social psychologists conduct experiments, which are careful and systematic ways of testing theories. There are many ways to learn about people, such as reading a novel, watching people at the airport, living in a foreign country, or talking with friends for hours at a time. All those approaches may yield valuable lessons, but the scientific method has important advantages over them. In particular, it is hard to know whether the insights gleaned from reading a novel or peoplewatching are correct. The scientific method is the most rigorous way of sorting out the valid lessons from the mistaken ones. We discuss the scientific method in detail in a later section.



S o c i a l P s y c h o l o g y ’s P l a c e i n t h e W o r l d

Quiz Yourself


What Do Social Psychologists Do?


Unconscious forces are to reinforcement histories as _____ is to _____. (a) affect; cognition (b) cognition; affect (c) behaviorism; (d) psychoanalysis; psychoanalysis behaviorism


What are the components of the ABC triad? (a) Affect, behavior, (b) Affect, beliefs, compliance cognition (c) Attitudes, beliefs, (d) Affect, behavior, conformity cognition


What psychologist is primarily associated with psychoanalysis? (a) Floyd Allport (b) Sigmund Freud (c) Kurt Lewin (d) Norman Triplett


What is the primary approach that social psychologists use to uncover the truth about human social behavior? (a) Reliance on authority (b) Introspection figures (c) Rationalism (d) Scientific method Answers: 1=d, 2=b, 3=d, 4=d

Social Psychology’s Place in the World Social psychology is related to other social sciences and to other branches of psychology. It also differs from them in important ways.

Social Psychology’s Place in the Social Sciences Social scientists study people and the societies in which people live. They are interested in how people relate to one another. The various social sciences focus on different aspects of social life. anthropology the study of human culture—the shared values, beliefs, and practices of a group of people

economics the study of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, and the study of money

history the study of past events

Anthropology. Anthropology is the study of human culture. Human culture consists of the shared values, beliefs, and practices of a group of people. These values, beliefs, and practices are passed down from one generation to another. Not only are humans social animals, they are also cultural animals. This is one of the central themes of this book. Social psychologists cannot understand human behavior fully unless they understand the cultural context in which that behavior occurs. Economics. Economics is the study of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Social psychologists are very interested in these topics. In fact, some social psychological theories are based on economic principles. For example, social exchange theory predicts commitment to relationships by considering factors such as the costs, rewards, investments, and the number of alternatives available. Economics also calls our attention to large social systems (such as the labor market or money system) and to how these systems shape behavior. Again, a full understanding of human behavior requires appreciating not just what goes on inside one person’s head and what is happening in his or her immediate environment at the time, but also how the person’s behavior fits into the larger social system. History. History is the study of past events. For humans to progress, they should

understand past events and learn from them. Society progresses when members can avoid repeating the same mistakes others have made. Social psychologists sometimes debate whether the behaviors they study have changed historically, but until recently there has been little interaction between social psychologists and historians. political science the study of political organizations and institutions, especially governments

Political Science. Political science is the study of political organizations and institutions, especially governments. Social psychologists conduct research on political behavior. They study political issues such as voting, party identification, liberal versus


Chapter 1: The Mission and the Method

conservative views, and political advertising. They are also interested in what makes some people better leaders than others (see Chapter 14). sociology the study of human societies and the groups that form those societies

Sociology. Sociology is the study of human societies and the groups that form those

societies. Although both sociologists and social psychologists are interested in how people behave in societies and groups, they differ in what they focus on. Sociologists focus on the group as a single unit, whereas social psychologists focus on the individual members that make up the group. Some sociologists call themselves social psychologists, and the exchange of ideas and findings between the two fields has sometimes been quite fruitful because they bring different perspectives to the same problems.

Social Psychology’s Place Within Psychology Psychology is the study of human behavior. Psychology is like a big tree that contains many branches. Social psychology is just one of those branches, but it is intertwined with some of the other branches (see ● Table 1.1).

biological psychology (physiological psychology, neuroscience) the study of what happens in the brain, nervous system, and other aspects of the body

Biological Psychology. People are biological creatures, and everything that people think, do, or feel involves some bodily processes such as brain activity or hormones. Biological or physiological psychology and (more recently) neuroscience have focused on learning about what happens in the brain, nervous system, and other aspects of the body. Until recently, this work had little contact with social psychology, but during the 1990s (the “Decade of the Brain”) many social psychologists began looking into the biological aspects of social behavior, and that interest has continued into the 21st century. Social neuroscience and social psychophysiology are now thriving fields.

clinical psychology branch of psychology that focuses on behavior disorders and other forms of mental illness, and how to treat them

Clinical Psychology. Clinical psychology focuses on “abnormal” behavior, whereas social psychology focuses on “normal” behavior. Social psychological theory can shed a great deal of light on so-called normal behavior. Although abnormal and clinical cases may seem different, in fact social and clinical psychology have had a long tradition of exchanging ideas and stimulating insights into each other’s fields. In particular, clinical psychologists have made good use of social psychological theories. As we noted in an earlier section, the social–clinical interface has recently received an upsurge of interest and attention; if you were to enter either field right now, you might want to keep an eye on that interface.

cognitive psychology the study of

Cognitive Psychology. Cognitive psychology is the basic study of thought

thought processes, such as how memory works and what people notice

processes, such as how memory works and what events people notice. In recent decades, social psychology has borrowed heavily from cognitive psychology, especially by using their methods for measuring cognitive processes. Under the rubric of “social cognition,” social psychologists study how people think about their social lives, such as thinking about other people or solving problems in their world. Conversely, however, cognitive psychology has not borrowed much from social psychology.

developmental psychology the

Developmental Psychology. Developmental psychology is the study of how people change across their lives, from conception and birth to old age and death. In practice, most developmental psychologists study children. Developmental psychology has borrowed much from social psychology and built on it, such as by studying at what age children begin to show various patterns of social behavior. Until now, social psychology has not taken much from developmental psychology, though this may be changing. Social psychologists interested in self-regulation, emotion, gender differences, helping behavior, and antisocial behavior sometimes look to the research on child development to see how these patterns get started.

study of how people change across their lives, from conception and birth to old age and death

S o c i a l P s y c h o l o g y ’s P l a c e i n t h e W o r l d personality psychology the branch of psychology that focuses on important differences between individuals


Personality Psychology. Personality psychology focuses on important differences between individuals, as well as inner processes. For example, some people are introverted and avoid social contact, whereas other people are extraverted and crave social contact. Social and personality psychology have had a long and close relationship (e.g., Funder, 2001), as reflected in the titles of three of the top scientific journals in the field: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and Personality and Social Psychology Review. The relationship between personality and social psychology has been sometimes complementary (personality psychologists looked inside the person, whereas social psychologists looked outside at the situation) and sometimes competitive (is it more important to understand the person or the situation?). In recent years, the line between these two fields has become blurred, as social psychologists have come to recognize the importance of inner processes and personality psychologists have come to recognize the importance of circumstances and situations.

● Table 1.1

Psychology Subdiscipline


Descriptions of Psychology Subdisciplines

Biological psychology

Biological psychologists focus on what happens in the brain, nervous system, and other aspects of the body.

Clinical psychology

Clinical psychologists focus on “abnormal” behavior.

Cognitive psychology

Cognitive psychologists focus on thought processes, such as how memory works and what people notice.

Developmental psychology

Developmental psychologists study how people change across their lives, from conception and birth to old age and death.

Personality psychology

Personality psychologists focus on important differences between individuals, as well as inner processes.

Social psychology

Social psychologists focus on how human beings think, act, and feel. Thoughts, actions, and feelings are a joint function of personal and situational influences.

*Data are from McGinnis and Foege; percentages are for all deaths. Source: Mokdad, Marks, Stroup, & Gerberding, 2004

Social Psychology’s Place in the World


A social psychologist is usually interested in studying the _____. (a) community (b) group (c) individual (d) institution


Which of the following is not one of the disciplines included in the social sciences? (a) Anthropology (b) Economics (c) Psychology (d) All of the above are social sciences.


A researcher is interested in studying how the annual divorce rate changes as a function of the unemployment rate. This researcher is probably a(n) _____. (a) Anthropologist (b) Political scientist (c) Psychologist (d) Sociologist


“Abnormal” behavior is to “normal” behavior as _____ psychology is to _____. psychology. (a) biological; cognitive (b) clinical; cognitive (c) clinical; social (d) personality; social Answers: 1=c, 2=d, 3=d, 4=c

Quiz Yourself


Chapter 1: The Mission and the Method

Why People Study Social Psychology

© Reuters/Corbis

Curiosity About People

Michael Jackson dangling his 8-monthold son, Prince Michael II, over a fourth-floor balcony in Berlin, Germany (November 20, 2002).

Some social events are mere curiosities. For example, why did pop star Michael Jackson dangle his 8-month-old son, Prince Michael II, over a fourth-floor balcony in Berlin, Germany? Why did the president of Kenya tell everyone in his country to abstain from sex for two years? Why do the French live longer than people in just about any other country but also report much lower average happiness in life? Why do so many people watch reality TV programs? One of the most highly respected and influential social psychologists, Edward E. Jones, was once asked how he could justify spending his entire life studying social psychology and interactions, even though his research did not translate directly into plans for how to cure suffering or make lots of money. He looked at his questioner with genuine puzzlement and explained that he, and presumably everyone else, had a “basic curiosity about people.” For most people, this curiosity is merely a personal interest, but by becoming a social psychologist, Jones was able to make it his life’s work. Jones thought that understanding people was an end in itself and did not need to be justified on other grounds (such as making money, though as a famous professor he earned a comfortable living). Only careful scientific research, like that practiced by social psychologists, can ultimately lead to a more reliable and valid understanding of people. We think curiosity about people is still an excellent reason for studying social psychology. Social psychology can teach a great deal about how to understand people. If this book does not help you to understand people significantly better than before, then either you or we (or both) have failed. And if you do feel that this book and this course have improved your understanding of human nature, then that is worth quite a lot as an end in itself.

Experimental Philosophy philosophy “love of wisdom”; the pursuit of knowledge about fundamental matters such as life, death, meaning, reality, and truth

Philosophy (from the Greek philo-sophia) means “love of wisdom.” Over the centuries philosophers have thought deeply about many of the most interesting and profound questions in the world. Most fields of study, including psychology, were originally part of philosophy. Psychology separated itself from philosophy around 1900, which in the context of Western civilization is pretty recent. Psychology addresses many questions that pertain to the love of wisdom and that also interest philosophers: Why are human beings sometimes so cruel to each other? What is knowledge, and where does it come from? Is altruism (selflessly helping others) truly possible, or are helpers merely trying to feel better about themselves? What is virtue? Why do people so often give in to temptation? What is the nature of the self and identity? What separates philosophy from psychology is psychology’s heavy reliance on the scientific method. Philosophers deal with problems by thinking very carefully and systematically about them; psychologists address the same problems by systematically collecting data. Psychology, including social psychology, thus offers a marvelous opportunity to combine an interest in profound questions with the scientific method of seeking answers.

Making the World Better Many social psychologists (and social scientists) are motivated by a wish to make the world a better place. They come to this field because they are troubled by injustice, violence, pollution, poverty, or the sufferings of some group. They want to understand the causes of these problems and perhaps begin to find ways of fixing them. Hardly anyone thinks that our society is perfect. Changing it is often a tricky business, however, because many so-called remedies do not work, and sometimes the


steps one takes to fix one problem end up creating a new or different problem. For example, drilling for oil can increase energy supplies and reduce energy costs, but it can also lead to environmental pollution. Social scientists disagree among themselves as to the nature of many problems and the desired solutions, but most share a belief that better knowledge will in the long run enable society to deal with its problems more effectively. If a government passes new laws and makes new policies based on wrong information, those laws and policies are not likely to bring about the desired effects. The desire to fix particular problems causes some social scientists to focus their study on the specific problem, such as the plight of welfare mothers, or why people don’t wear seat belts, or how to get people to conserve electric power. These scholars are often called applied researchers, because their research is applied to a specific problem. Others, however, try to advance the cause of knowledge generally, in the hope that creating a solid knowledge base will eventually result in a general understanding of basic principles that can be applied to many different problems. When Kurt Lewin, one of the fathers of social psychology, was questioned as to whether his research had sufficient practical value, he answered, “There is nothing as practical as a good theory” (Lewin, 1951, p. 169). A passion to make the world a better place is a fine reason to study social psychology. Sometimes, however, researchers let their ideals or their political beliefs cloud their judgment, such as in how they interpret their research findings. Social psychology can only be a science if it puts the pursuit of truth above all other goals. When researchers focus on a topic that is politically charged, such as race relations or whether divorce is bad for children, it is important to be extra careful in making sure that all views (perhaps especially disagreeable ones, or ones that go against established prejudices) are considered and that the conclusions from research are truly warranted. For example, Christina Hoff Sommers (1994) has written about pressures she faced regarding unpopular views. At the time, women’s rights groups were campaigning for better treatment of adolescent girls, and they cited the high rate of girls’ deaths from eating disorders as one sign of urgent need for intervention. Sommers discovered that there had been a huge error in reporting the frequency of these deaths and that the real death toll was far less than reported. When she began to bring this up, Sommers said, many feminists told her that she should keep silent about it, because the reported numbers—even though wildly inaccurate—were helpful to their cause. Sommers was sympathetic to the desire to make life better for teenage girls, but she decided that spreading falsehoods was not a good means toward that end. Other researchers, however, were apparently quite willing to put their political ideals above the truth. Ben Osborne/Getty Images

© Matthew Polak/Corbis Sygma

© Philip Gould/Corbis

Why People Study Social Psychology

Drilling for oil can increase energy supplies and reduce energy costs, but it can also lead to environmental pollution and kill wildlife.

applied research research that focuses on solving particular practical problems

Social Psychology Is Fun! Another reason to study social psychology is that it is fun. Not only do social psychologists get to spend their working lives dealing with many of the most fascinating questions that occupy other people in their free time—but the process is also enjoyable.


Chapter 1: The Mission and the Method

To be good at social psychology, especially once you reach the stage of conducting research, it is helpful to be creative. The questions are exciting, but the challenge of testing them is often difficult. Social psychologists constantly try to come up with new and clever ways to test their ideas.

Quiz Yourself 1.

Why People Study Social Psychology

Who said that he spent his entire life studying social psychology because he had a “basic curiosity about people”? (a) Floyd Allport (b) Edward E. Jones (c) Kurt Lewin (d) Norman Triplett


What term when translated means “love of wisdom”? (a) History (b) Philosophy (c) Psychology (d) Sociology


What is the main factor that separates philosophy from psychology? (a) The amount of education (b) The amount of time the required to earn a doctoral disciplines have been degree. around.

(c) The types of problems studied. 4.

(d) The methods used to study problems.

Who said “There is nothing as practical as a good theory”? (a) Floyd Allport (b) Edward E. Jones (c) Kurt Lewin (d) Max Ringelmann

Answers: 1=b, 2=b, 3=d, 4=c

How Do Social Psychologists Answer Their Own Questions? Accumulated Common Wisdom It turns out that world knowledge, or accumulated common wisdom, is loaded with social psychological “truths.” Consider the adages your grandmother may have told you (Rogow, 1957): ● ● ● ● ●

“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” “Birds of a feather flock together.” “Opposites attract.” “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Note that some of these contradict each other! People were offering adages long before your grandma’s time. The problem with so-called common wisdom or common sense is that it allows us to happily and effortlessly judge adages as being true and, at the same time, judge their opposites as being true. For example, in one study, participants rated actual adages and their opposites (Teigen, 1986). The first version is authentic, whereas the second version is bogus. Yet both versions were rated as equally true. ● ● ●

“Fear is stronger than love.” AND “Love is stronger than fear.” “He that is fallen cannot help him who is down.” AND “He that is down cannot help him who is fallen.” “Wise men make proverbs and fools repeat them.” AND “Fools make proverbs and wise men repeat them.”

Thus, human intuition is a poor method for discovering truth. Common wisdom is probably right more often than it is wrong, but that is not good enough for science. In the long run, science can find the right answers to almost everything. (In the short run, scientists have to be content with slowly making progress toward the truth, such as replacing a partly right and partly wrong theory with another theory that is still partly wrong but a little more right.) Hence social

How Do Social Psychologists Answer Their Own Questions?


psychologists do not rely too heavily on common sense or accumulated wisdom. If anything, they have often had to justify their scientific studies by finding patterns that go against common sense. Opposites do not attract. Instead, birds of a feather flock together (see Chapter 10). At most, common sense provides a good starting point for social psychologists to do their work. They can take ideas that everyone assumes to be true and find out which ones really are true, as opposed to which ones are always false. As for those that are sometimes true and sometimes false, social psychologists can study what factors determine when they are true and when they are false. For example, which absences do make the heart grow fonder, and which circumstances cause people to forget about their absent friends or lovers and refocus on the people around them?

Overview of the Scientific Method Most people think that science is chemistry or biology or physics. But science is a method for discovering truth, not a discipline. So what is the scientific method? What steps does it involve? The scientific method involves five basic steps. 1. The researcher states a problem for study. 2. The researcher formulates a testable hypothesis as a tentative solution to the hypothesis an idea about the possible nature of reality; a prediction tested in an experiment

problem. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a hypothesis as “an idea or explanation for something that is based on known facts but has not yet been proved.” Lay people often define a hypothesis as an “educated guess.” For example, one hypothesis is that drinking alcohol makes people more aggressive. 3. The researcher designs a study to test the hypothesis and collects data. Anyone observing the data collection process should be able to replicate or repeat it. 4. A test is made of the hypothesis by confronting it with the data. Statistical methods are used to test whether the data are consistent or inconsistent with the hypothesis. No single study can prove anything beyond all doubt. There is always the possibility that the data turned out a certain way as a fluke, by random chance. Usually researchers test their hypotheses at the .05 significance level. If the test is significant at this level, it means that researchers are 95% confident (1.00 ⫺ .05 ⫽ .95) that the results from their studies indicate a real difference and not just a random fluke. Thus, only 5% of research conclusions should be “flukes.” Moreover, the pressures to replicate studies will sharply reduce the number and proportion of such false, invalid conclusions. 5. The researcher communicates the study results. The researcher submits a manuscript describing exactly what was done and what was found to the editor of a scientific journal. The editor then selects other experts in the area to review the manuscript. The editor reads the manuscript independently, reads the reviewers’ comments, and then decides whether to accept the manuscript for publication. About 80–90% of manuscripts submitted to the best social psychology journals are rejected. These high standards help ensure that only the best research is published in social psychology journals. Once an article is published, it is in the public domain. If other social psychologists don’t believe the results, they can replicate the study themselves to see if they obtain similar results. Food for Thought illustrates the various steps of the scientific method.

Scientific Theories

theories unobservable constructs that are linked together in some logical way

Social psychologists are not content to know what people do; they also want to know why they do it. That is why psychologists derive their hypotheses from theories. Theories are composed of constructs (abstract ideas or concepts) that are linked together in some logical way. Because constructs cannot be observed directly, the researcher connects them with concrete, observable variables using operational definitions. ● Figure 1.3 illustrates the relationship between unobservable constructs (in dashed boxes) and observable variables (in solid boxes).


Chapter 1: The Mission and the Method

Food for Thought Does Chicken Soup Reduce Cold Symptoms? Dr. Stephen Rennard, a professor of medicine, and his colleagues applied the scientific method to the age-old observation that chicken soup makes people with colds feel better. Rennard wondered if something in chicken soup might reduce the upper respiratory inflammation that makes people with colds feel miserable. This was his hypothesis. Rennard designed a study to test the effect of chicken soup on white blood cells called neutrophils, the immune cells that cause congestion. He prepared a number of samples of chicken soup and fed them to participants. Neutrophil counts were recorded before and after participants ate the soup. By carefully recording these observations, he collected data. As hypothesized, Rennard found that chicken soup reduced neutrophil counts. People were less congested after eating chicken soup than before.

Theoretical stimulus Operational definitions

Independent variable

● Figure 1.3

Representation of a theoretical model. Unobservable constructs are represented as dashed boxes on the top level. Observable variables are in solid boxes on the bottom level.

independent variable the variable manipulated by the researcher that is assumed to lead to changes in the dependent variable dependent variable the variable in a study that represents the result of the events and processes

Rennard wrote up exactly what he did and what he found in a formal manuscript (he even provided the recipe for the chicken soup) and submitted it to the editor of the scientific journal Chest. The editor sent the manuscript to other experts in the area for peer review. After reading the manuscript and the peer reviews, the editor decided that the study was good enough to be published. The article, titled “Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro,” is in the scientific journal Chest, Volume 118 (2000), pages 1150–1157. You (or anyone) can look it up. If you think the conclusion was mistaken, you are welcome to conduct a further experiment to show why.

The independent variable is any observable event that causes the person to do something. It is “independent” in the Theoretical sense that its values are created by the researcher and are not response affected by anything else that happens in the experiment. It is a “variable” because it has at least two levels, categories, types, or groups. For example, in a study testing the effects of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beer on aggression, the independent variable is type of beer, and there are two types: (a) alcoholic Dependent and (b) nonalcoholic. variable There is an important difference between manipulated independent variables and measured individual difference variables. Social psychologists have long recognized that behavior is a function of both situational and individual difference factors. Situational factors can be manipulated in experiments. Individual difference variables, such as gender, age, intelligence, ability, personality, and attitudes, can be measured but cannot be manipulated. For example, a researcher cannot manipulate whether participants will be male or female or whether they will be high or low in intelligence. Participants arrive for the experiment already possessing these attributes. A researcher can only draw cause–effect conclusions about the true independent variables that were manipulated in the experiment. This is important: We cannot ever really know that intelligence or gender causes a particular outcome, because only experimentation can establish causality, and those variables cannot be manipulated in an experiment. Still, we can learn a great deal about what typically correlates with gender or intelligence. The dependent variable is any observable behavior produced by the person. It is “dependent” in the sense that its values are assumed to depend upon the values of the independent variable. In the study of the effect of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beer on aggression, aggression is the dependent variable. A researcher could use different measures of aggression (e.g., hostile verbal insults or physical acts such as hitting, kicking, or choking someone). Researchers must at some point tie their unobservable constructs to concrete representations of those constructs. This is accomplished by using operational defini-


Peanuts © United Feature Syndicate, Inc. Reprinted by permission.

How Do Social Psychologists Answer Their Own Questions?

Lucy’s theory is not scientific because it cannot be tested.

operational definitions observable operations, procedures, and measurements that are based on the independent and dependent variables construct validity of the cause extent to which the independent variable is a valid representation of the theoretical stimulus

construct validity of the effect extent to which the dependent variable is a valid representation of the theoretical response

tions. An operational definition classifies theoretical constructs in terms of observable operations, procedures, and measurements. For example, though we can never be absolutely sure whether someone is angry, an operational definition of anger might include making an angry face, acting angry, and checking “angry” on a list of items asking “How do you feel?” If the operational definitions of the constructs are valid, the study is said to have construct validity (Cook & Campbell, 1979). Construct validity of the cause means that the independent variable is a valid representation of the theoretical stimulus. Construct validity of the effect means that the dependent variable is a valid representation of the theoretical response. For a theory to be scientific, it must be testable. To test a theory, one must be able to define its theoretical constructs operationally. If the theoretical constructs cannot be operationally defined, the theory is beyond the realm of science. It might fall within the realm of philosophy or religion.

Research Design Social psychologists use both experimental and nonexperimental studies. In this section we describe both types of studies. Experimental Studies. Most social psychologists favor experiments, partly because a experiment a study in which the researcher manipulates an independent variable and randomly assigns people to groups (levels of the independent variable)

random assignment procedure whereby each study participant has an equal chance of being in each treatment group

quasi-experiment a type of study in which the researcher can manipulate an independent variable but cannot use random assignment

well-designed experiment can show causality. An experiment has two essential features. First, the researcher has control over the procedures. The researcher manipulates the independent variable and holds all other variables constant. All those who participate in an experiment are treated the same, except for the level of the independent variable they are exposed to. By exercising control, the researcher tries to make sure that any differences observed on the dependent variable were caused by the independent variable and not by other factors. Second, participants are randomly assigned to the levels of the independent variable. A different group experiences each level of the independent variable. If the independent variable has two levels (e.g., experimental group versus control group), the researcher can flip a coin to assign participants to groups. If there are more than two groups, the researcher can draw a number from a hat or roll a die to assign participants to groups. Random assignment means that each participant has an equal chance of being in each group. By randomly assigning participants to groups, the researcher attempts to ensure that there are no initial differences between groups. Random assignment is the great equalizer. If participants are randomly assigned to groups, the participants in one group should be no different—no smarter, no taller, no more liberal or conservative, no more mean-tempered, no more eager for love—than the participants in another group. If there are differences between groups of participants after the independent variable is manipulated, these differences should be due to the independent variable rather than to any initial, preexisting differences between participants. If a researcher can manipulate an independent variable, but cannot use random assignment, the study is called a quasi-experiment. In a quasi-experiment, the


Chapter 1: The Mission and the Method

internal validity the extent to which changes in the independent variable caused changes in the dependent variable

confederate a research assistant pretending to be another participant in a study

researcher “takes people as they are.” Researchers often use preexisting groups (e.g., classrooms, fraternity groups, athletic clubs) because random assignment is not possible. For example, if you wanted to learn about marriage, you would ideally like to assign people randomly to be married or single (and whom to marry), but this is clearly not feasible! So you rely on comparing people who are already married with those who happen to be single. Suppose that a researcher is interested in determining whether a relationship exists between two variables, say X and Y. For example, a researcher might be interested in the relationship between exposure to TV violence (X) and aggression (Y). When two variables are related in a systematic manner, there are three possible explanations for the relationship: (a) X could cause Y; (b) Y could cause X; (c) some other variable (Z) could cause both X and Y. The two essential features of an experiment (control and random assignment) allow the researcher to be fairly certain that the independent variable (X) caused differences in the dependent variable (Y). Note that one cannot conclude that Y caused X in an experiment. We know what caused X, and it wasn’t Y. The experimenter caused X, because the experimenter manipulated X. Thus, we know that X preceded Y in time. In an experiment it is also unlikely that some other variable (Z) caused both X and Y. The experimenter controlled many other variables by treating groups of participants identically. Random assignment is used to spread out the effect of other variables that cannot be controlled (e.g., the mood participants are in, their personalities). A study is said to have internal validity if the researcher can be relatively confident that changes in the independent variable caused changes in the dependent variable (Cook & Campbell, 1979). Internal validity is usually high in experimental studies. Consider the violent media example again. In a true experiment, the researcher doesn’t ask participants if they would rather watch a violent or a nonviolent TV program. If the researcher let people choose which program they wanted to watch, people choosing the violent TV program might be very different from those choosing the nonviolent TV program. For example, people choosing the violent TV program might be more aggressive to begin with, less intelligent, or less socially skilled. That is why the researcher flips a coin to determine which TV program people watch. That way, the two groups should be the same before they watch anything. If you flip a coin to determine what program people are assigned to watch, it is very unlikely that all the aggressive people will end up watching the violent program, especially if there is a large number of people in the experiment. Suppose there are 200 participants in the experiment (100 in each group). There should be a 50–50 chance of an aggressive person seeing a violent program. Think about flipping a fair coin 200 times. On average, you should get about 100 heads. It would be very unlikely to get 200 heads in a row, or even 150 heads out of 200 flips. Next, one group watches a violent TV program and the other group watches a nonviolent TV program. In all other respects, the researcher treats the two groups of participants identically. In a carefully conducted experiment, the violent and nonviolent TV programs would be matched on other dimensions that could increase aggression, such as how exciting they are, and how long they last. (For example, if the violent movie lasted two hours, and the nonviolent movie lasted only 20 minutes, any differences in subsequent behavior might be due to the length of the movie, not to the violence.) In addition, the researcher should use several different violent programs and several different nonviolent programs. Otherwise, the comparison is between two particular TV programs (e.g., CSI Miami versus American Idol), not between violent and nonviolent TV programs in general. Last, the researcher measures the aggressive behavior of both groups of participants. For example, participants are given an opportunity to hurt another person, such as by administering an electric shock. The “other person” is actually a confederate of the experimenter who is pretending to be another participant receiving the shock. If aggression levels are higher among those who watch a violent TV program

How Do Social Psychologists Answer Their Own Questions?


than among those who watch a nonviolent TV program, what else could have caused the difference except what they watched? Random assignment ensures that the two groups were equally aggressive before they watched anything. The researcher treats the two groups identically except for what they watch. In an experimental study, one can say that viewing violence caused an increase in aggression. The only other possible explanation is a random fluke, but that should occur only 5% of the time. This process is depicted in ● Figure 1.4. ● Figure 1.4

In an experimental study, participants are randomly assigned to groups, and then their responses are measured. Participants

reactance an unpleasant emotional response that people often experience when someone is trying to restrict their freedom

field experiment experiment conducted in a real-world setting

Violent TV

High aggression

Nonviolent TV

Low aggression

Random assignment

Laboratory and Field Experiments. Have you ever had the experience of looking for a parking spot in a very crowded parking lot? There are no empty spots, but you see a shopper returning to her car and you decide to wait to get her spot when she leaves. Unfortunately, she takes a long, long time to leave. She takes her time putting sacks into her car. When she gets into the car, she puts on her seat belt, finds her favorite CD, adjusts the mirror, arranges her hair, and so on. At long last, she starts the car. She lets it warm up a long time before pulling out. When she finally does pull out, it seems like a snail could do it faster. After she leaves, you zoom into the parking spot before somebody else grabs it. Perhaps you have also had the converse experience. Your car is already parked in a lot, and some obnoxious driver hovers over you waiting for you to leave. To teach the driver a lesson, you take your sweet time leaving. After all, it is your spot and you had it first. These common experiences illustrate how territorial humans can be. People don’t want others to encroach on their territory. An intruder creates a challenge to the occupant’s control over the territory. According to psychological reactance theory, people respond to such threats by experiencing an unpleasant emotional response called reactance (Brehm, 1966). This emotional response motivates them to defend their territory. A field experiment was conducted to study territorial behavior in parking lots (Ruback & Juieng, 1997). Most experiments are conducted in a laboratory setting, but some are conducted in a real-world setting. Experiments conducted in a realworld setting are called field experiments. In this field experiment, participants were drivers who were leaving their parking spaces at a mall. The researchers manipulated the level of intrusion. In the high-intrusion condition, a confederate stopped four spaces from the departing driver’s car, flashed his turn signal in the direction of the departing car, and honked his horn as soon as the departing driver sat behind the steering wheel. In the low-intrusion condition, the confederate stopped four spaces from the departing car, but did not flash his turn signal or honk his horn. In the control condition, the researchers simply timed how long it took drivers to leave their parking space when there was no intruder present. The results showed that departing drivers took longer to leave when someone was waiting for their spot than when no one was waiting. In addition, the driver took longer to depart when the confederate honked than when he did not. The results are depicted in ● Figure 1.5.


Chapter 1: The Mission and the Method









Low Intrusion

● Figure 1.5

Drivers took their sweet time leaving a parking spot when an intruder was waiting to get it (Ruback & Juieng, 1997).

experimental realism the extent to which study participants get so caught up in the procedures that they forget they are in an experiment mundane realism refers to whether the setting of an experiment physically resembles the real world

external validity the extent to which the findings from a study can be generalized to other people, other settings, and other time periods correlational approach a nonexperimental method in which the researcher merely observes whether variables are associated or related

correlation the relationship or association between two variables

correlation coefficient (r) the statistical relationship or association between two variables

The primary strength of a laboratory experiment is control over other variables that might influence the results; the primary weakness is that the setting is less realistic. Laboratory experiments do not have to be unrealistic, though. Actually, “realistic” can mean different things. The distinction between experimental realism and mundane realism is an important one (Aronson & Carlsmith, 1968). Experimental realism refers to whether participants get so caught up in the procedures that they forget they are in an experiment. Mundane realism refers to whether the setting physically resembles the real world. Experimental realism is far more important than mundane realism in determining whether the results obtained in the experiment can be applied to the real world. Laboratory experiments are generally low in mundane realism, but they can be high in experimental realism. High A study is said to have external validity if the findings are likely to generalize to other people and other settings (Cook & Campbell, 1979). Experimental realism is more important than mundane realism in determining the external validity of a study (Berkowitz & Donnerstein, 1982). Field experiments are generally high in experimental and mundane realism, but they lack the tight control that laboratory experiments have. Thus, it is more difficult to make causal statements from field experiments than from laboratory experiments. That’s why some researchers prefer the lab while others prefer the field. There is no perfect method. Scientific progress is best served by using both lab and field. Nonexperimental Studies. Although social psychologists generally prefer experimental studies, sometimes they cannot be used. Recall that the two hallmarks of an experiment are control and random assignment. Some variables cannot be controlled for practical or ethical reasons, such as gender, race, ethnicity, marital status, and age. Sometimes random assignment cannot be used either. Suppose, for example, that a researcher is interested in the relationship between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer. It would be unethical to randomly assign participants to smoke or not smoke cigarettes. Faced with such difficulties, social psychologists often adopt an alternative research technique known as the correlational approach. In this approach, the researcher does not try to control variables or randomly assign participants to groups. Instead, the researcher merely observes whether things go together normally. Such associations are called correlations. A correlation gives the relationship or association between two variables. When a correlation is positive, as one variable goes up the other variable also goes up. For example, there is a positive correlation between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer: The more cigarettes people smoke, the more likely they are to get lung cancer (e.g., Wynder & Graham, 1950). When a correlation is negative, as one variable increases the other variable decreases. For example, there is a negative correlation between time spent playing video games and grades in college: The more time college students spend playing video games, the lower their grade point average is (Anderson & Dill, 2000). When there is no correlation, the two variables are not related in a linear fashion. For example, there is no correlation between IQ scores and shoe size. Mathematically, correlations are computed in terms of the correlation coefficient, denoted by r. A correlation coefficient can range from ⫹1.0 (a perfect positive correlation) to ⫺1.0 (a perfect negative correlation). A correlation coefficient of 0 indicates that the two variables are not linearly related. The closer a correlation is to ⫹1 or ⫺1, the stronger it is (see ● Figure 1.6). A meta-analysis is a literature review that combines the statistical results (e.g., correlations) from different studies conducted on the same topic. The main weakness of the correlational approach is that it does not allow the researcher to conclude that changes in one variable caused the changes in the other

How Do Social Psychologists Answer Their Own Questions?

Visual depiction of values of correlation coefficients. One of the variables is plotted on the xaxis and the other variable is plotted on the y-axis. The sign indicates the direction of the relation between the two variables (positive or negative). The value indicates how strongly the two variables are related—the stronger the relationship, the closer the points are to the line.



r ⫽ ⫹1.0



r ⫽ 0.0



r ⫽ ⫺1.0



r ⯝ ⫹0.6


r ⯝ ⫺0.6


variable. Recall that when two variables (say X and Y) are correlated, any combination of three explanations is possible: (1) X could cause Y, (2) Y could cause X, or (3) some other variable (say Z) could cause both X and Y. For example, suppose a researcher finds a positive correlation between media violence (X) and violent crime (Y). At least three explanations are possible: (a) Media violence causes violent crime; (b) violent criminals like to watch media violence; (c) some other variable (e.g., low intelligence, poverty, poor social skills) causes people to watch media violence and to commit violent crimes. The difficulty of drawing causal conclusions about media violence is reflected in the cartoon on this page. As this cartoon suggests, it is difficult to prove that media violence causes aggression using the correlational approach. Consider another example. If you counted up the amount of ice cream eaten every day in Minnesota and the number of people who drowned there each day, you might find a positive correlation—that is, there were more drownings on the days on which more ice cream was eaten. But you can’t tell what causes what. It could be that eating more ice cream causes people to drown; perhaps people go swimming right after eating lots of ice cream, get cramps, and cannot swim back from deep water. Or it could be that drownings cause an increase in ice cream eating; maybe the friends of people who drown feel sad and try to console themselves by eating ice cream. (This seems doubtful on intuitive grounds, but without further information there is no way to be certain that it is wrong.) Or, most likely, changes in the weather might account for both ice cream eating and drownings. On hot days, more people swim and hence more people drown, and hot days also promote ice cream eating. On snowy or rainy days, fewer people swim and fewer people eat ice cream. That’s enough to produce a correlation.

Reprinted by permission of Universal Press Syndicate, Inc.

● Figure 1.6



Chapter 1: The Mission and the Method

Quiz Yourself

How Do Social Psychologists Answer Their Own Questions?


A testable prediction about the conditions under which an event will occur is called a _____. (a) construct (b) hypothesis (c) theory (d) variable


Which of the following is an operational definition of racial prejudice? (a) A negative attitude (b) The number of negative toward individuals based traits the person selects on their membership in from a list of traits a particular race. when doing the list for his or her own race versus another race. (c) The tendency to believe (d) All of the above could that people of a particular be operational definirace are less deserving tions of prejudice. than are people of another race.


With random assignment, each participant _____. (a) is exposed to all levels (b) is exposed to all levels of the dependent of the independent variable variable (c) has an equal chance (d) has an equal chance of of being exposed to being exposed to each each level of the level of the independependent variable dent variable


Which of the following correlations shows the strongest relationship between the variables? (a) The correlation between (b) The correlation alcohol consumption and between height and IQ is r = 0. traffic deaths is r = .36. (c) The correlation between (d) The correlation time spent partying and between watching grades among college media violence and aggression is r = .20. students is r = –.80. Answers: 1=b, 2=b, 3=d, 4=c

How Much of Social Psychology Is True? Many thousands of social psychology studies are done every year. On the one hand, this volume of activity gives the impression that a great deal is being learned and great progress is being made. On the other hand, the many arguments and controversies in the field create the impression that chaos and anarchy prevail and no progress is being made. Also, many people criticize social psychology experiments as not being good ways to learn about reality. The critics argue that social psychology laboratories are artificial settings, that social psychology measures are unrealistic, and that the participants tested (mainly college students) are not representative of real people. In other words, the critics claim that social psychology research lacks external validity. Accordingly, let us spend a little time reflecting on how much confidence we can have in what social psychologists learn—indeed, on how much one can believe what is presented in the rest of this book!

Self-Correcting Nature of Science As already mentioned, one source of concern about social psychology is that experts sometimes disagree. Sometimes both sides can point to experiments that seem to support their conflicting viewpoints. Moreover, some experiments can produce a wrong or misleading conclusion, possibly due to a hidden flaw in the experimental design. It is even possible that researchers occasionally fail to report their work correctly, and once in a great while it is found that researchers have lied about their work, perhaps to advance their careers by claiming to have produced some new discovery. In the long run, these problems are corrected. Flawed experiments or misleading interpretations can arise, but in general new work builds on older work, and if there are mistakes in the older research, the newer research will find them and correct them. This is one of the great advantages of the sciences (including the social sciences) as opposed to the humanities (e.g., literary criticism): It is possible, eventually, to establish that some ideas or conclusions are wrong. Hence some of the conclusions described in this book may turn out in the long run to be wrong or partly wrong. As each decade passes, the body of knowledge in

H o w M u c h o f S o c i a l P s y c h o l o g y I s Tr u e ?


the field becomes more complete and more correct. Social psychology, like almost all scientific fields, is a work in progress. But the progress is real.

Reliance on Student Samples Many people worry less about whether the findings of social psychology experiments are correct than about whether they are generalizable. These questions arise because most studies in social psychology are done with college students, who are easier to find for research (especially because most researchers are university professors). Some argue that students might not be typical of everyone else, so a social psychology based on college students might not generalize to other groups, such as the elderly, middle-aged corporate executives, or homeless people. Periodically, social psychologists seek to replicate their studies using other groups. In general, the results are quite similar. College students do not differ all that fundamentally from other people in most respects. When they do differ, it is often more a matter of degree than of behaving according to different principles. A social psychology experiment typically seeks to establish whether or not some causal relationship exists (such as whether insults cause aggression). As it happens, college students do become more aggressive when insulted, but so do most other people. It might be that some groups will respond with more extreme aggression and others with less, but the general principle is the same: insults cause aggression. When college students do differ from other people, these differences are probably limited to a few specific areas, and researchers interested in them should be cautious (Oakes, 1972; Sears, 1986). On average, college students may be more thoughtful than others, and more intelligent (because people of low intelligence are less likely to go to college). Their self-concepts may be less firmly established, because most students are still in the process of building their adult identities. They may have less experience with the burdens of responsibility than other adults who must cope with the demands of work and taking care of a family. They may come from slightly more affluent backgrounds and have somewhat smaller proportions of ethnic minorities than the population at large. None of these differences is likely to make students radically different from other people. Hence, social psychology’s disproportionate reliance on studying college students does not represent a serious problem.

Cultural Relativity Most social psychology is done and published in the United States and a few other very similar Western countries (including Canada, the Netherlands, and Germany). Some people worry that findings based in these cultures would not apply to people who live in very different cultures, such as in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, or central Asia. We do not have enough evidence to know how serious this problem may be. Because Western countries dominate social psychology research (although much work is being conducted in Japan and elsewhere), we simply do not know how different people in other cultures may be. There is little evidence to suggest that people in other cultures fail to conform to certain basic patterns of social psychology—for example, that similarity promotes liking (see Chapter 10) or that bad events have a more lasting impact than good events (see Chapter 2). But it is also true that no one has tested whether these same patterns can be found everywhere. Although we are optimistic that much of what Western social psychologists find will prove to be true of people everywhere, we think it prudent to expect that some differences may exist. At present, it seems reasonably safe to generalize what social psychology knows to the vast majority of adult citizens in Western cultures, but to be cautious and hesitant about generalizing to people who live in very different cultures. This book is based on the assumption that human nature has some basic, universal features. In other words, we do believe that some psychological facts and principles are true for people everywhere. But there are also cultural differences, and


Chapter 1: The Mission and the Method

some of them are quite substantial and important. People may be born the same everywhere in many respects, but different cultures can build on these same basic traits in different ways and shape them according to different values. This theme is reflected in the next chapter, where we discuss humans as cultural animals.

Quiz Yourself

How Much of Social Psychology Is True?


What concept allows science to be self-correcting over time? (a) Correlation (b) Generalizability (c) Random assignment (d) Replication


Most social psychological studies use participants from which continent? (a) Asia (b) Australia (d) South America (c) North America


Social psychology experiments are criticized on what grounds? (a) Social psychology (b) Social psychology laboratories are artificial dependent variables settings. are unrealistic. (c) College students are (d) All of the above. not representative of real people.


What type of participants do most social psychologists use in their studies? (a) Children (b) College students (c) Senior citizens (d) White rats

Answers: 1=d, 2=d, 3=c, 4=b

Chapter Summary A Brief History of Social Psychology ●

● ●

Social psychology can help you make sense of your own social world. The mere presence of another person enhances performance on a simple task. Individual effort decreases as group size increases. Behaviorism seeks to explain all of psychology in terms of learning principles such as reward and punishment.

What Do Social Psychologists Do? ●

Social psychology features experiments and the scientific method. It studies inner states and processes as well as behavior. Social psychology is concerned with the effect of other people on (mainly adult) human beings’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The ABC triad in social psychology stands for ● Affect, or how people feel inside (including emotion) ● Behavior, or what people do, their actions ● Cognition, or what people think about Social psychology focuses especially on the power of situations.

Social Psychology’s Place in the World ●

Social psychology is both similar to and different from other social sciences. ● Anthropology is the study of human culture.

Economics is the study of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. ● History is the study of past events. ● Political science is the study of political organizations and institutions, especially governments. ● Sociology is the study of human societies and the groups that form those societies. Psychology is the study of human behavior. Several other areas of psychology are related to social psychology. ● Biological psychology, physiological psychology, and neuroscience focus on the brain, nervous system, and other aspects of the body. ● Clinical psychology focuses on abnormal behavior and disorders. ● Cognitive psychology is the basic study of thought processes. ● Developmental psychology focuses on how people change across their lives, from conception and birth to old age and death. ● Personality psychology focuses on differences between individuals, as well as inner processes. What separates philosophy from psychology is psychology’s heavy reliance on the scientific method. ●

Why People Study Social Psychology ●

Social psychologists often find the topics they study to be intrinsically interesting. Applied researchers study a specific practical problem, usually outside the laboratory.

Chapter Summary

How Do Social Psychologists Answer Their Own Questions? ●

● ●

To be a good social psychology researcher, it is helpful to be creative. Common sense can be mistaken. The scientific method involves five basic steps: ● State a problem for study. ● Formulate a testable hypothesis (educated guess) as a tentative solution to the problem. ● Design a study to test the hypothesis and collect data. ● Test the hypothesis by confronting it with the data. ● Communicate the study’s results. The independent variable (or operational stimulus) is an observable event that causes a person in an experiment to do something. It has at least two levels, categories, types, or groups. The dependent variable (or operational response) is an observable behavior produced by a person in an experiment. An operational definition classifies theoretical variables in terms of observable operations, procedures, and measurements. For a theory to be scientific, it must be testable, so its theoretical constructs must be operationally defined. Two essential features of experiments are control and random assignment: ● By exercising experimental control, the researcher tries to make sure that any differences observed on the dependent variable were caused by the independent variable and not by other factors. ● Participants in an experiment must be randomly assigned to levels of the independent variable (assignment to groups is random if each participant has an equal chance of being in each group). A confederate is someone who helps the experimenter by pretending to be another participant.

Experiments conducted in a real-world rather than a laboratory setting are called field experiments. Experimental realism refers to whether participants get so caught up in the procedures that they forget they are in an experiment (important for determining whether the results obtained in the experiment can be applied to the real world). Mundane realism refers to whether the setting and research procedures physically resemble the real world. In the correlational approach, the researcher does not try to control variables or randomly assign participants to groups, but merely observes whether things go together. A correlation gives the relationship or association between two variables. ● When a correlation is positive, as one variable goes up the other variable also goes up. ● When a correlation is negative, as one variable increases the other variable decreases. ● A correlation coefficient can range from ⫹1.0 (a perfect positive correlation) to ⫺1.0 (a perfect negative correlation). The main weakness of the correlational approach is it does not allow the researcher to conclude that changes in one variable caused the changes in the other variable.

How Much of Social Psychology Is True? ●

Because research builds on older research, science is self-correcting. Some psychological facts and principles are true for people everywhere. But there are also cultural differences, and some of them are quite substantial and important.

> Key Terms ABC triad 8 Anthropology 9 Applied research 13 Behaviorism 7 Biological psychology 10 Clinical psychology 10 Cognitive psychology 10 Confederate 18 Construct validity of the cause 17 Construct validity of the effect 17 Correlation coefficient (r) 20 Correlation 20 Correlational approach 20


Dependent variable 16 Developmental psychology 10 Economics 9 Experiment 17 Experimental realism 20 External validity 20 Field experiment 19 Freudian psychoanalysis 7 History 9 Hypothesis 15 Independent variable 16 Internal validity 18 Mundane realism 20

Operational definitions 17 Personality psychology 11 Philosophy 12 Neuroscience 10 Physociological psychology 10 Political science 9 Quasi-experiment 17 Random assignment 17 Reactance 19 Social psychology 8 Sociology 10 Theories 15


Chapter 1: The Mission and the Method

> Media Learning Resources Make sure you check out the complete set of learning resources and study tools below. If your instructor did not order these items with your new book, go to to purchase Thomson Higher Education print and digital products. Social Psychology and Human Nature Book Companion Website Visit your book companion website, where you will find flash cards, practice quizzes, internet links, and more to help you study. Just what you need to know NOW! Spend time on what you need to master rather than on information you already have learned. Take a pretest for this chapter, and ThomsonNOW will generate a personalized study plan based on your results. The study plan will identify the topics you need to review and direct you to online resources to help you master those topics. You can then take a post-test to help you determine the concepts you have mastered and what you will still need to work on. Try it out! Go to to sign in with an access code or to purchase access to this product. Classic and Contemporary Videos Student CD-ROM To see videos on the topics and experiments discussed in this chapter and to learn more about the research that social psychologists are doing today, go to the Student CD-ROM. Social Psych Lab These unique online labs give you the opportunity to become a participant in actual experiments, including re-creations of classic and contemporary research studies.

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Culture and Nature Explaining the Psyche Nature Defined Evolution, and Doing What’s Natural Culture Defined Cultural Influence, Meaning, and the Power of Ideas

Tradeoffs: When You Can’t Have It All

Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Bad, Good, and Positive Psychology Tradeoffs: Political Tradeoffs Important Features of Human Social Life The Duplex Mind

Are People the Same Everywhere?

The Long Road to Social Acceptance

Social Animal or Cultural Animal?

Built to Relate

The Individual and Society Social Brain Theory Evolved for Culture? Facts of Life Food and Sex Bad Is Stronger Than Good

Food for Thought: Virtuous Vegetarians

Nature Says Go, Culture Says Stop Selfish Impulse Versus Social Conscience Putting People First

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective Chapter Summary


Eric Meola/Getty Images

The Social Side of Sex: Sex and Culture


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature


© Spencer Grant/Photo Edit

Canadian woman gave birth to twin boys in the wee hours of one winter morning. The hospital was understaffed, and the care fell to some very tired and overworked people. As the doctor was performing circumcision on one of the babies, her hand slipped and she burned off a large part of the boy’s penis. Medical technology was not capable of repairing the damage. After some long and anxious conversations, the family and medical staff decided that the best thing to do was to remove the rest of the penis and raise the boy as a girl (Colapinto, 2000). The decision was not taken lightly. The family consulted with leading experts on gender and sexuality. In the past, many psychologists and others had believed that men and women were innately different, but the feminist movement had challenged those beliefs as being mere rationalizations for sexual oppression, and most expert opinion had come around to agree that boys and girls were not born different, but were made different by how they were brought up. Many Canadian and American parents were themselves rethinking how to raise their children so as to undo the constraining stereotypes and perhaps produce more autonomous, stronger daughters and more sensitive, caring sons. If adult personality depended mainly on upbringing, then it should not matter much whether a child was born as a boy or a girl. It should therefore be possible to raise this baby boy as a girl with no untoward consequences. At most, the experts thought that the child would need some injections of female hormones around the time of puberty. Little Brenda (as the child was named) was not told about the botched circumcision or the gender switch. She grew up wearing long hair and dresses, playing with other girls, and in other ways being introduced to the female sex role. The sex experts kept in touch and reported back to the scientific community that the experiment was working. Brenda was a normal girl. The reports were not quite right, however. The parents were anxious to avoid displeasing the experts, and perhaps they also wanted to avoid admitting that they might have made a mistake in converting their son into a daughter. But the girl never fit in. She wanted to play rough games like the boys did. She was more interested in sports, race cars, and fighting toys than in dolls, makeup, or tea parties. Her dress was often dirty and disheveled, and her hair was tangled, unlike the other girls’. As the children approached puberty and began to play kissing games or to try dancing at parties, the tensions increased. Brenda did not know what was wrong, but she wanted no part of kissing boys or dancing with them. Her rebellious behavior increased. Finally it came time for the hormone shots. By now Brenda was in regular therapy. She rebelled and absolutely refused to accept the injections. When her parents broke down and told her the full story of how she had been born as a boy, she finally felt as if she could understand herself. She immediately quit being a girl. She cut her hair, replaced her dresses with boys’ clothes, and took a male name. He insisted on having lengthy, agonizing surgeries to remove his breasts and create a sort of penis from the muscles and skin of his legs. Although his body could not biologically father a child, the former Brenda was even able to become a father by virtue of marrying a woman who already had children. But happiness proved elusive, and at age 38 he killed himself (Colapinto, 2000; also Joiner, 2005). Later, investigative reporters uncovered other such cases. Each time, the person born as a boy and raised as a girl did not turn out to be a typical adult woman. One of them, for example, worked as an auto mechanic, never wore dresses or skirts, and smoked cigars. These stories are important because they suggest limits to the power of socialization. In the 1970s and 1980s, most psychologists accepted the view that the differences between men and women were due to parental care and upbringing. Parents supposedly taught their sons to be aggressive but their daughters to be passive and compliant. For a while, the early part of the “Brenda” story was

As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, by John Colapinto.

Explaining the Psyche

psyche a broader term for mind, encompassing emotions, desires, perceptions, and all other psychological processes

reported in some textbooks as evidence that sex roles are entirely due to socialization, and Brenda was described as a normal and healthy girl. But the problems that emerged later suggested that the differences between male and female are partly innate. (“Innate” means something you are born with, as opposed to something you learned or acquired after being alive. “Innate” is also understood to mean something that cannot be fully or easily changed.) There are limits to how much can be accomplished by teaching, upbringing, and other aspects of socialization. None of this should be taken to mean that learning and culture are irrelevant. Boys and girls do learn from their culture how to act and how to understand themselves. But there are limits to the power of culture. Apparently people are predisposed to learn some things more easily than others. If gender identity were entirely a matter of learning, Brenda should have been a normal girl. Parents, teachers, psychologists, and others were all working together to raise her as a girl, and none of her peers or friends were told that she had once been a boy. At times she seemed to accept herself as a female and to act as one was supposed to act. However, the experiment failed. Apparently there are some parts of who you are that come from biology, regardless of what your parents and teachers tell you. Social psychology is aimed at exploring how people think, feel, and act. The ultimate explanations for human behavior lie in nature and culture, and there have been many long, bitter debates over which of those is more important. The one clearly correct answer is that both are very important. In this chapter, we will consider the complementary influences of nature and culture. One approach to understanding how people think, feel, and act is to try to understand what the human psyche is designed for. (The psyche is a broader term for mind, encompassing emotions, desires, perceptions, and indeed all psychological processes.) Imagine someone who has grown up on a deserted island and has never met another human being or seen any man-made items. Then one day a box washes ashore with an electric can opener. How would the person figure out what the can opener does? Having grown up on a deserted island, the person has seen neither cans nor electric items. This hypothetical person might take it apart, analyze it, observe its parts and see what some of their properties are, but it would be almost impossible for this person to understand it properly. To understand it, you have to know what it was designed to do. Understanding the human psyche is somewhat like that. We want to understand and explain how it works. To do that, it is useful to know what the psyche/human mind is designed for. Hence we turn to nature and culture, because those are what made psyche the way it is. If the psyche was designed for something in particular, then nature and culture designed it for that purpose. Accordingly, if we can learn what the purpose is, then we can understand people much better. © Roman Barnes

To understand how to work this device, you have to know what it is designed to do.


Explaining the Psyche “Science is built up with facts, as a house is with stone. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house.” —Jules Henri Poincaré

Why are people the way they are? Why is the human mind set up as it is? Why do people think, want, feel, and act in certain ways? Most of the explanations for human behavior ultimately lead back to two basic ways of answering these fundamental questions: nature and culture. The nature explanations say that people are born a


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

certain way; their genes, hormones, brain structure, and other processes dictate how they will choose and act. In contrast, the culture explanations focus on what people learn from their parents, from society, and from their own experiences. Such debates have raged over many other forms of social interaction and behavior. Are people born with a natural tendency to be aggressive, or is aggression something they pick up from watching violent films, playing with toy guns, and copying other people’s actions? Are some people born to be homosexuals, or can people choose and change their sexual orientation? Is mental illness the result of how your parents treated you, or is it something in your genes? What about whether someone likes to drink alcohol or gamble? What about heroism, especially when people risk their own lives to protect or save others? How many of the differences between men and women reflect their innate, genetic tendencies, and how many are the product of cultural stereotypes? Many social scientists have grown tired of nature–nurture debates and wish to put an end to them, though others continue to pursue them vigorously. There has been an effort in recent years to say that both nature and culture have real influence. The most common resolution tends to favor nature as more important, however, because nature is indispensable. As Frans de Waal (2002) argued, nature versus culture isn’t a fair fight, because without nature you have nothing. He proposed that the argument should be waged between whether a particular behavior is the direct result of nature or stems from a combination of nature and culture. Your body has to perceive what is happening, your brain has to understand events, and your body has to carry out your decisions (and brain and body are both created by nature). Put more simply, nature comes first, and culture builds on what nature has furnished. That is one view. This book, however, favors the view that nature and culture have shaped each other. In particular, nature has prepared human beings specifically for culture. That is, the psychological traits that set humans apart from other animals (including language, a flexible self that can hold multiple roles, and an advanced ability to understand each other’s mental states) are mainly there to enable people to create and sustain culture. This interaction between nature and culture is the key to understanding how people think, act, and feel. But let’s start by considering nature and culture separately.

Nature Defined nature the physical world around us, including its laws and processes

theory of evolution a theory proposed by Charles Darwin to explain how change occurs in nature

natural selection process whereby those members of a species that survive and reproduce most effectively are the ones that pass along their genes to future generations survival living longer

Nature is the physical world around us, including its laws and processes. It includes the entire world that would be there even if no human beings existed. Nature includes trees and grass, bugs and elephants, gravity, the weather, hunger and thirst, birth and death, atoms and molecules, and all the laws of physics and chemistry. Nature made people too. (People who believe that the original humans were created by a divine power still recognize that the natural processes of reproduction and childbirth create today’s people.) Those who use nature to explain human behavior invoke the sorts of processes that natural sciences have shown. For example, neuroscientists look for explanations in terms of what happens inside the brain (chemical reactions, electrical activity). Behavior geneticists seek to understand behavior as the result of genes and show that people are born with tendencies to feel and act in certain ways. Above all, however, the advocates of nature in psychology turn to evolutionary theory to understand behavior patterns. The next section will provide an introduction to this style of thinking.

Evolution, and Doing What’s Natural Over the past two decades, many social psychologists have begun looking to the theory of evolution to help explain social behavior. The theory of evolution, proposed by the British biologist Charles Darwin in the 1800s, focuses on how change occurs

Charles Darwin and his book Origin of Species have had a tremendous influence on the field of psychology.


in nature. Over thousands of years, a type of plant or animal may evolve into a somewhat different kind of creature. Human beings evolved from other animals that probably resembled some of the great apes (as well as resembling humans). Human beings may be different from all other animals, but we are animals nonetheless. As animals, we have many of the same wants, needs, and problems that most other animals have. We need food and water on a regular basis, preferably a couple of times every day. We need to sleep. We need shelter and warmth. We need air. We suffer illnesses and injuries and must find ways to recover from them. Our interactions with others are sometimes characterized by sexual desire, competition, aggressive impulses, family ties, or friendly companionship. Nature cannot plan ahead and design a certain kind of change. In a sense, therefore, nature produces changes that are essentially random. The complicated processes that mix the genes of two parents to produce a unique set of genes in the baby sometimes produce novel outcomes, in the form of new traits. However, powerful forces react to these random changes. As a result, some random changes will disappear, whereas others will endure. The process of natural selection chooses which traits will disappear and which will endure. For example, imagine that one baby was born with no ears, another with one leg twice as long as the other, and a third with eyes that could see farther than the average eye. Having no ears or having legs of unequal length would probably be disadvantages, and natural selection would not preserve these traits for future generations. (That’s a polite way of saying that those babies would probably not live long enough to have their own offspring, thereby passing along their genes to the next generation.) A significant improvement in vision, however, might be selected to remain, because the baby who grew up seeing better than other people would be able to find more food and spot danger from a safer distance. The genes for better vision would therefore remain in the gene pool (because this baby would probably grow up and have babies), and so in future generations more and more people would enjoy this improvement. Staying Alive. Natural selection operates on the basis of two criteria: survival until reproduction, and reproduction itself. A trait that improves survival or reproduction will tend to endure. A trait that reduces one’s chances for survival or reproduction (such as having self-destructive impulses) will probably not survive. These are crucial themes, because the biological success of any trait is measured in terms or survival and reproduction. Survival means living longer. Darwin’s contemporary Herbert Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” to describe natural selection. Animals compete against each other to survive, in terms of who can get the best food or who can best escape being eaten by larger animals. For example, in a group of zebras, the ones who run the slowest are most likely to be eaten by lions, and so the ones born to be fast are more likely to live long enough to pass along their genes.

© Dan Piraro. Reprinted by permission of King Features Syndicate.

© Spencer Grant/PhotoEdit

© Lebrecht/The Image Works

Explaining the Psyche


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

mutation a new gene or combination of genes

reproduction producing babies that survive long enough to also reproduce

gender differences between males and females

sex sexuality, including coital intercourse

An important point about survival is illustrated by the following joke (Ridley, 1993). An evolutionary psychologist and an engineer went for a walk. As they rounded a corner, they saw charging toward them a tiger who had escaped from a nearby zoo. The evolutionary psychologist turned and ran off in a panic, while the engineer stood rooted to the spot. Just before the tiger reached him, the zookeeper drove up, shot the tiger with a tranquilizer dart, threw a net over her, and took her away. The evolutionary psychologist, now out of breath and disheveled, rejoined the engineer and asked in a puzzled voice, “Why didn’t you run?” The engineer replied, “I did a quick calculation and determined that running was futile. There’s no way a human being can outrun a tiger.” The evolutionary psychologist responded, “I wasn’t trying to outrun the tiger, I was only trying to outrun you!” The point of this joke is an important subtle aspect of evolutionary theory. Natural selection operates by having members of the same species compete against each other. A person who could outrun tigers would indeed be able to survive that particular kind of environmental danger, but it may be impossible for any human to run that fast. Evolution doesn’t have to wait for such a super-fast human to emerge by mutation in order to pick a winner. The tiger in the joke would have stopped (for lunch) as soon as she caught one person. The other would have survived, not by being faster than the tiger, but by being faster than the other person. Although it is tempting to think of evolution as individuals against the dangerous environment, the crucial competition is often between members of the same species. Mating and Offspring. Gradually, biologists have shifted their emphasis from survival to reproduction as the single most important factor in natural selection. Survival is mainly important as a means to achieve reproduction. Reproduction means producing babies—though the babies have to survive long enough for them to reproduce too. Reproductive success requires creating many offspring who will in turn create many offspring. Much of the recent work in evolutionary theory has focused on gender differences (Buss, 1994; Symons, 1979; Trivers, 1972). (Note: Researchers use the terms gender and sex with different meanings. We follow the practice of using gender to refer to the difference between male and female and sex to refer to sexuality, including coital intercourse.) For example, evolution would likely select men to want more sex partners than women want. A woman can only have one full-term pregnancy a year no matter how many men she has sex with, but a man can father dozens of children each year if he has sex with many women. Moreover, a woman’s children would be more likely to survive to adulthood if they were cared for by two parents than by the mother alone. Hence men today are probably descended from men who desired multiple partners, whereas today’s women got their genes from female ancestors who preferred lasting, committed relationships. Current research suggests that this pattern is found all over the world, in many different cultures: Men desire more sex partners than women, while women seek quality mates who will commit to staying around (Schmitt, 2003).

Culture Defined Culture is harder to define than nature. (In fact, Boyd and Richerson, 1985, listed 164 different definitions of culture that different people had used!) The term originally referred to a system of farming (a usage one can still see in terms like agriculture). Then it came to refer to musical and artistic achievements, such as paintings and symphonies. Social scientists eventually began to use the term to refer to what a large group of people have in common. French culture, for example, refers to everything that French people share: language, values, food preferences, a style of government, a place (France), and a shared sense of connection to the artistic and historical achievements of other French people.

Explaining the Psyche


Shared Ideas. Culture is the world of shared ideas. Culture enables you to interact

with people you have never met before, because by virtue of belonging to the same culture you have enough in common that you can do things together. If you travel to another city and meet new people, many interactions are possible because of culture: You might talk to them about sports or politics, or you might buy something from them in a store, or you might sing together with them in a church, or you might work together to sail a boat. To say that culture consists of “shared ideas” is to say that no single person has culture by himself or herself. People may argue about many beliefs and practices, but the arguments occur on the basis of shared underlying beliefs. In the United States, for example, Democrats and Republicans argue about how best to run the country, but they share an underlying faith in certain ideas such as free elections, helping the needy, a healthy economy, and good schools. They just disagree about how to provide these things and how to choose between two values when they conflict. Culture as System. Culture exists as a network linking many different people. The

Many Philadelphians like to eat Philly cheese steaks. Shared beliefs, shared ways of doing things, or both?

Culture as Praxis. Anthropologists now argue among themselves as to whether a culture should be understood more on the basis of shared beliefs and values or shared ways of doing things. (Many use the term praxis to refer to practical ways of doing things.) Almost certainly, the answer is both. The culture that people in Philadelphia share involves some shared values, such as in the value of money, democracy, preferences for some kinds of food, aversion to crime, support for their local sports teams, and so forth. They also share ways of doing things: They drive on the same roads, use the same hospitals when they are sick, buy their food at local supermarkets, borrow money from the same banks, read the same newspapers, and so on. You will not live very well in Philadelphia if you refuse to shop at Philadelphia stores, or insist on driving your car on the left side of the road, or only go to a hospital to play billiards rather than get treatment for illness. © Bob Krist/Corbis

praxis practical ways of doing things

idea of a network is useful because it captures the essential point that culture connects many people together and exists in what they share. The problem with the idea of a network is that it doesn’t sufficiently capture the dynamic (changing) aspect of culture. Culture never sits still. Instead of a network, therefore, it is useful to think of culture as a system consisting of many moving parts that work together. Think, for example, of how people get food nowadays: Farmers grow it, factories process it, truckers transport it, stores display it, people buy it and cook it. When a family sits down to dinner, it is likely that fifty or a hundred other people have directly helped get that food there (not to mention the thousands of others who were indirectly involved, including the management of the supermarket chain, the banks that financed the farms and the trucking company, the corporations that paid the mother and father the salaries they used to buy the food, the factories that built the refrigerator and stove, the suppliers of electricity . . .). The food system is an initial illustration of one theme of social psychology that we will call putting people first. (We will talk more about this later in the chapter, and throughout the book.) Most animals get their food directly from nature, at least after a brief period of infancy. In the modern world, most people get their food from other people. Human survival and success depend more on how we deal with each other than on how we deal with the natural world around us.


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

Culture, Information, and Meaning. Another crucial aspect of culture is that it is

based on meaningful information. All cultures use language to encode and share information. People act as they do because they process this information. How they act now is based on how they think about the future, including their goals and needs. Animals act mainly from instinct and learned responses, without forming plans or thinking about the future. In contrast, humans think about the future, formulate plans and goals, and adjust their current behavior to help them reach those goals. Unlike squirrels, human beings can think about and plan for the future. If you dig up all a squirrel’s nuts and cart them off, the squirrel just goes on burying more nuts at the same pace, not even trying to compensate for the loss. But if humans lose their stores—perhaps because of a power failure that causes all the food in the refrigerator to spoil—then people compensate by replacing the lost supply. Summary. What, then, is culture? The different components mentioned in this section culture an information-based system that includes shared ideas and common ways of doing things

can be summarized in this way: Culture is an information-based system, involving both shared understandings and praxis, that allows groups of people to live together in an organized fashion and to satisfy their biological and perhaps other needs.

Cultural Influence, Meaning, and the Power of Ideas

abstract and that can be expressed in language

Not a good idea.

© Ben Molyneux/Alamy

ideas mental representations that are

Culture is not a physical reality, so in order for it to influence how people act, it must use a different kind of causality. Culture consists of shared ideas or meaning. Human beings choose their actions based on what something means—a style of action control that is foreign to just about all other creatures on earth. We will use the term ideas to refer to these meaningful causes. Ideas are mental representations (thoughts) that are abstract (i.e., they refer to more than a single concrete thing) and that can be expressed in language. We use the term in the everyday sense, such as when someone comments that what you’re doing is or isn’t a good idea. For example, laws are ideas. Laws are abstract rules that are expressed in language. Most people obey laws some of the time. That is, they do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do because of laws. Laws are very general rules that apply to anyone in a large category of people (e.g., citizens of a particular state), that need to be understood and interpreted (which is why people seek advice from lawyers), that prohibit or require certain kinds of action under a range of circumstances (e.g., no left turns at this particular intersection on weekdays 3–6 P.M.). The law can be defined as collective action through and by government, because it is a set of rules produced, interpreted, and enforced by a collective network of people and institutions (e.g., Friedman, 2002). People pay taxes, or they wait for green traffic lights to signal them when to drive forward. They change the way they make houses or cars or sausages, simply because ideas such as new safety rules or other guidelines are enacted as laws. Such behaviors aren’t natural. You won’t see dogs, or bears, or birds paying taxes or waiting for traffic lights. Nor will birds change the way they construct their nests because some other birds a thousand miles away have changed some rules after hearing about some nests in yet a third place that fell apart in bad weather, endangering the occupants. In saying that laws are ideas, we mean that they are not physical things. They are abstract rules that exist in the collectively shared “general store” of the culture. They may be written down, but the written document is not the law itself, and if the paper on which the law is written gets torn up or burned, the law is still in effect. (Otherwise thieves could just sneak over to

Natalie Sachs-Ericsson

Explaining the Psyche

Don’t ask, don’t tell.


the library and tear up the law against stealing, whereupon the law would cease to exist and they could just take other people’s belongings without fear of punishment.) To understand a person’s behavior, it is essential to understand what the behavior means to the person. Those ideas form part of the causal process. Ideas, and meaning in general, are things that could be expressed in language. Human behavior is not just a matter of physiological responses to stimuli. Rather, people act as they do partly on the basis of ideas. For example, people may change the way they act because there is a law against something they want to do. Plants and animals lack the capacity to understand and interpret laws, at least in the full sense in which human beings have laws. At best, some animals can be taught that they will be punished if they enter a forbidden room, or climb on the furniture, or grab food off the table. But these are usually very specific rules that are linked to specific things and places. Sometimes the house pet learns merely to stay off the bed when its owners are around. When they leave, the pet hops up on the bed, without worry or guilt. Another difference is that some degree of scolding or chastisement is almost always needed to sustain the rule for an animal. In contrast, people can learn about the law and obey it, even in unfamiliar settings and novel situations, without ever having to receive punishments for breaking it. There are many other ideas that affect human behavior. Some people change how they act based on general moral rules, such as not to steal or lie. Many people decide how to act based on religious ideas and principles. Professional codes of ethical behavior guide how many people perform their jobs. Another important category of ideas involves how people think about the distant past or future, and these thoughts can be made relevant to the present so as to change behavior. For example, many people celebrate holidays based on events that occurred before they were born, such as Independence Day in the United States. Others will orient their present behavior toward an outcome that may be years away, such as trying to earn a college degree. Nature has prepared human beings to use ideas in ways that are unknown among other animals. Most people have an almost nonstop train of thought that goes on in their minds all day, often labeling things and people they encounter (“That’s a police officer over there”), commenting on things that happen (“Whew, that was difficult!”), and creating explanations for events (“She probably said those things because she had had too much to drink”). Thus, human beings differ from other animals not only in that they can use language—but also in that they seem driven to use language constantly in their thoughts and interactions. The power of ideas can be appreciated by considering a peculiar news event from 2006. It is impossible to imagine this happening in any other species, and in fact it is even hard to explain in human culture. A man living in Denmark (a small country in northern Europe) drew some cartoons making fun of another man who had been dead for centuries. Some newspapers printed these cartoons. People far away saw these cartoons and got really angry. On the other side of the world, in Pakistan, some people got so mad they burned down a restaurant in their neighborhood that served fried chicken. How does that make sense? The cartoons depicted a religious leader, the prophet Mohammed, and the rioters were people who believed in the religion (Islam) founded by that man. It is harder to say why they targeted the Kentucky Fried Chicken shop—it was there to serve Pakistani Islamic customers, was part of a chain started in Kentucky, USA, and had no apparent connection to Denmark, to newspapers, to any religious beliefs, or to the cartoons showing the prophet wearing a bomb for a hat. Then again, the cartoons had made the rioters believe (not incorrectly) that some foreigners were making fun of their religion, and they became angry at foreigners generally, especially foreigners with a different religion, and they saw the KFC restaurant as the nearest available symbol of such foreigners—so they directed their hostility toward it. Burning the restaurant did not solve the problem— all it accomplished, if anything, was to deprive themselves of one dining option—but violent people of all faiths and nationalities tend to gloss over such fine distinctions.

Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

Are People the Same Everywhere? At first blush, people are very different. If you have ever visited (or if you come from) a foreign country, especially one outside North America and Western Europe, you probably encountered striking differences. People speak different languages, read different books and magazines, and eat very different foods. These differences reflect the influence of culture. What could be more natural than sleep? Yet there are important cultural differences in how people sleep. In the United States, most people sleep only at night and wake up with an alarm clock. Many consume coffee or some other substance containing a drug that will wake them up. In Mexico, it is customary for adults to take a nap (a siesta) in the middle of the day, and as a result one may not sleep as much at night. Some cultures and religions disapprove of consuming coffee and similar drugs, so people must wake up naturally. Sleeping arrangements are also quite different, even though most people regard their own sleeping patterns as natural. In particular, should small children sleep alone or with their parents? In the United States, the prevailing practice is to keep children out of their parents’ bed and even in a separate bedroom. One study of white, middle-class, two-parent families in Cleveland found that only 3% of the babies slept in their parents’ bedroom during their first year of life, and only 1% after that (Litt, 1981). In a more recent incident in that same city, a little girl mentioned to her friends in first grade that she slept with her father, and the friend told the teacher, who initiated a police investigation. Thus, having children sleep with parents is not only unusual, but some regard it as potentially a crime. In other cultures, however, sleeping arrangements are quite different. In one survey of many different non-Western, nonindustrial societies, anthropologists found that the norm everywhere was for infants to sleep with their mothers (Barry & Paxson, 1971). Researchers in Japan confirmed that a typical Japanese person hardly ever sleeps alone at any point in life, nor does he or she want to. Roughly half of Japanese children ages 11 to 15 sleep in the same bed with their mother or father; others sleep with siblings. The only Japanese who normally sleep alone are unmarried young adults who are living away from home and old people whose spouse has died and whose children (and grandchildren) are living elsewhere. People who are accustomed to the middle-class American system might regard it as dangerous, immoral, or even pathological (sick) to let children sleep with their parents. However, when Japanese or people from other cultures learn about the American practice, they have a similar reaction. They think that Americans must not love their children if they put them through the terrifying ordeal of making them sleep by themselves. Some point out that in the animal kingdom, too, babies want to be with their mothers, especially at night, and so it seems “natural” to them to do the same. The American practice thus seems dangerous, immoral, or wrong to them. In these and countless other ways, people are different, both within and between cultures. Then again, in other respects people are much more similar. Nearly everywhere, people love their children, try to get enough to eat, talk about the weather, wait their turn, make distinctions between right and wrong, compete for status, help each other (and help family and relatives more readily than strangers), worry about money, and drive their cars on the same side of the road. Usually they drive on the right, though in some countries (such as England and Australia) they drive on the left, but the important thing is that they share a rule that tells everyone to drive on the same side. The question of whether people are the same everywhere, or differ in different cultures, is a vexing one for social psychology. By far the greatest amount of research is done in the United States, most of © Digital Archive Japan/Alamy


Explaining the Psyche


it at American universities with university students as participants. Some social psychologists despair that the cultural differences are so big that it is impossible to formulate any general conclusions, and some suggest that we should never generalize beyond American college students (or at least not without years of careful checking to verify what patterns are found everywhere). Others are more optimistic. Although cultural differences are real and important, they are often merely matters of degree rather than opposites. For example, people respond more aggressively to insults and criticism than to praise, people are attracted to others similar to themselves more than to those who are different, and people get jealous when their romantic partners have sex with others. There are cultural differences in how these reactions are expressed and perhaps even in how strongly they are felt. But there are no known cultures in which the opposite patterns (e.g., disliking similar others, or aggressing more in response to praise than insult) are found. In this book, we will present some interesting findings of cultural differences. But our greater quest is for underlying similarities. For example, languages are very different from each other, but underneath they have great similarities, and all known human cultures have and use language. Hence we think the use of language is part of human nature. Moreover, evolution helped install the necessary equipment (vocal cords, ears that can tell thousands of words apart, and brains that can use grammar) for people to use language. As we shall explain in greater detail later in this chapter, much of social psychology can be understood by assuming that the human psyche was designed by nature (via natural selection) for culture. This means that culture is in our genes, even though cultural differences may not be.

Social Animal or Cultural Animal?

social animals animals that seek connections to others and prefer to live, work, and play with other members of their species

cultural animal the view that evolution shaped the human psyche so as to enable humans to create and take part in culture

Many social psychologists like to use the phrase “the social animal” to describe human nature. This phrase has been used by many influential thinkers, from the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle right down to the modern social psychologist Elliot Aronson (2000). By calling people social animals, these thinkers are saying that people seek connections to others and prefer to live, work, and play together with other people. People are indeed social animals, but using this label may miss the mark of what is special about human beings. Plenty of other animals are social, from ants to elephants (as Aronson and others acknowledge). Human beings are not the only and probably not even the most social animals. Being social is not what is most special about human beings; what is special is being cultural. Some other animals have bits and scraps of culture, such as when a tribe of monkeys all use a certain group of stones to open nuts, or learn to rinse their potatoes in the stream to get the dirt off (de Waal, 2002), but none comes anywhere close to having the remarkably rich and powerful cultural systems that humans have. Moreover, human beings have culture everywhere; human life is almost impossible to imagine without culture. Culture in animals is typically a bonus or a luxury, something they could live almost as well without. All humans use culture every day and depend on it for their survival (as shown in the earlier example of getting food from others and using culturally developed cooking styles). Culture is thus the defining trait of what makes us human. Yes, we are social beings, but we have plenty of company in that. We are also deeply cultural beings, and in that respect we are alone. What does it mean to be a cultural, as opposed to a merely social, animal? To be a cultural animal means to have culture—an organized, information-based system (recall the definition of culture earlier in this chapter). Culture uses language and ideas to organize social interactions into a broad network that includes many people, including some who are not related to each other. Culture rests on shared assumptions about how to do things and on some shared beliefs about the world. Culture is in some respects more than the sum of its parts (the people who belong to it). A culture

Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

enables learned patterns to be passed on from one generation to the next, so that the culture survives even as its members die and are replaced by new ones. Alexander Graham Bell has been dead for decades, but his invention (the telephone) is still used around the world. In contrast, when an ape or other animal comes up with a new way of doing something, it hardly ever outlasts the individual’s life, and the next generation has to start over (Tomasello, 1999). What are some of the main differences between being social and being cultural (or, more precisely, between being merely social and being both social and cultural)? Social animals may act together, such as when a swarm of bees or a pack of wolves or herd of zebras all move together. This mass action is social because the animals know what the others are doing and coordinate their own behavior with it. In contrast, cultural animals often have elaborate division of labor, in which each individual performs a unique function. Social animals may figure out good ways of doing things and may possibly copy something they see another doing. Cultural animals (human beings) deliberately share their knowledge throughout the group, so that it can be preserved and passed on to the next generation. Social creatures can often communicate, such as with grunts and barks. This communication refers mainly to events or entities that are present at that moment. Cultural animals use language, which enables them to communicate about many things that are far removed from the here and now. Human children often study history, for example, in which they learn about events that occurred centuries before they were born. Such communication is impossible for merely social animals. Social animals may help each other, but in general helping is limited to relatives. It is quite rare for any nonhuman animal to make some sacrifice (such as willingly giving away food) in order to benefit another, even if the two animals are related (and especially if they aren’t). In contrast, cultural animals have a broader sense of community and sometimes will help total strangers. Some people donate large sums of money to alleviate hunger or sickness among people they have never met, who may be of a different race and may live on a faraway continent. Others help people even when it involves great danger to themselves. When animals live and work together, some degree of conflict is probably inevitable. Social animals have few ways of resolving these disputes other than aggression. If two animals (not related to each other) want the same piece of food, the bigger and stronger one is likely to get it, by force if necessary. In contrast, culture offers many alternative means of resolving disputes. These include moral principles, compromise, and going before a judge in a court of law. In fact, most cultures strongly discourage people from settling their disputes by resorting to violence. Most social animals do not have that luxury. Thus, we think the best approach to social psychology is to assume that people are products of both nature and culture. Nature has given humans certain traits and abilities, because over time those enabled some people to survive and reproduce better than others. And humans survive and reproduce by means of their culture. Hence we think that natural selection has shaped the human mind to “do” culture. In that sense, it is natural for humans to share information, seek to be together, form groups with multiple roles, communicate with each other about their inner thought processes, and more. © blickwinkel/Alamy


Still no progress on cooked food, democracy, female liberation, social security, patent law, football, e-mail, or cosmetic surgery.

The Individual and Society

Quiz Yourself


Explaining the Psyche


The finding that kids who watch violent TV programs become more aggressive as adults than do kids who watch nonviolent TV programs can be explained in terms of ______ influences. (a) biological (b) genetic (c) hormonal (d) societal


The knowledge shared by a large group of people and transmitted from one generation to the next is called ______. (a) culture (b) nature (c) mutation (d) reproduction


Suppose that a new baby girl is born with no teeth. Unfortunately, because she had great difficulty eating, she died of starvation before she could have any children. Thus, the trait of having no teeth was not preserved for future generations. This process is called ______. (a) natural selection (b) nurture (c) praxis (d) none of the above


What term refers to a new gene or combination of genes? (a) Mutation (b) Natural selection (c) Reproduction (d) Survival Answers: 1=d, 2=a, 3=a, 4=a

The Individual and Society Social Brain Theory The human brain is one of the marvels of the world. Somehow the process of evolution that started off with tiny, one-celled animals managed to develop human brains so powerful that they could understand calculus, figure out how to use electricity, compose music with rhyming lyrics, and invent machines that could fly people to the moon. We can easily understand why natural selection might produce such a powerful human brain. After all, being smart should produce a great many advantages for survival and reproduction. Modern medicine is just one of the products of the human brain, and it alone has enabled people to live much longer and to reproduce more safely. Historians calculate that before 1800, about 1.3% of births caused the mother’s death, and so if the average woman had six pregnancies in her life, she ran about an 8% chance of dying in childbirth (Shorter, 1982). Modern medicine has nearly eliminated this risk. Babies, too, are much more likely to survive. The puzzling thing about intelligent brains is this: Why didn’t evolution make all animals much more intelligent than they are? Why aren’t dogs and mice and cockroaches as smart as Albert Einstein? After all, intelligence should help them survive and reproduce better too. Intelligent creatures should be better than stupid ones at figuring out the world around them, planning for a safe future, and outsmarting each other when they compete for food and sex partners. Some fascinating answers to these questions have been provided by the evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar (1993, 1996). In the first place, he points out, brains are biologically expensive. Dunbar has calculated that the human brain constitutes about 2% of the human body mass but consumes 20% of the calories that people consume. If your stereo consumed so much electricity that it doubled your electric bill, you might switch to a smaller stereo. The energy-hungry brain means that people with large brains need to eat more food, to provide the calories that keep the brain operating. Unless larger brains really enabled dogs to get much more food, dogs would probably not develop them. Dunbar compared the brain sizes (in proportion to total body weight) of many different species to see what the payoff was. Did big-brained species eat better foods, or more complicated foods such as fruit (which ripens and turns rotten rapidly)? Did they roam over larger territories, so that they needed a bigger brain to maintain a more complex mental map? No. What Dunbar found was that bigger brains were mainly linked to having larger and more complex social structures. Small-brained


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

animals tend to live alone or in small, simple groups, whereas smarter animals have more relationships with each other and more complicated groups (such as with dominance hierarchies). This conclusion is highly important. The human brain did not evolve because it helped us outsmart lions and tigers and bears, or build better shelters, or invent calculus. It evolved mainly in order to enable human beings to have rich, complex social lives. The brain is not for understanding the physical world around us, so much as it is for understanding each other. It is not so much a calculating brain or a problemsolving brain as it is a social brain. For Dunbar, cultural life and social life were mixed together, but one can distinguish culture as a special and advanced kind of social life. If the brain evolved to get smarter and smarter so as to support a richer and more complex social life, then being able to create culture was the next step in this development. The human brain is not just social but also cultural, and therein lies what makes the human mind really special.

Evolved for Culture? This book extends the social brain idea as a helpful way of understanding human nature and human social behavior. As we saw earlier, human beings are distinctively cultural animals (though they are social animals too). Making culture is one of the evolved functions of the human brain and psyche. Psychology likes to talk about the brain as if it were a computer. In that analogy, culture is like the Internet. A computer by itself is a good tool and can do some things pretty well. But a computer that is connected to the Internet can do a great deal more. The one connected to the Internet can get access to far more information than the computer not connected to the Internet, and it can also do many more things (such as pay bills, make plane reservations, or send a love letter to one’s heartthrob). In the same way, a brain by itself may be helpful in some ways, such as helping the person learn from his or her own experience—but a brain that is connected to culture can do vastly more. Culture enables a person to gain the benefit of what many other people have learned. For example, you may have grown up in a house that had electricity, running water, and insulation, but you didn’t have to figure out how to make those things yourself. Houses are built today based on the accumulated experience of millions of people who made and lived in millions of houses. Without culture, you’d have to build your own house, starting from scratch, knowing less than you do now. The essence of culture is that it is a system in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts. People who belong to a culture can accomplish more than people who live and work alone. Culture improves one’s prospects for survival and reproduction. As just one example, no other species enjoys as rich a diversity of tasty, healthy food as human beings. Cooking has vastly improved the quality and quantity of food available to humans, but individuals do not invent cooking on their own. Cooking requires culture. Let’s consider some of the main advantages of culture. Language. All human cultures have language. Language greatly improves the sharing

and storing of information. Some other animals communicate, mostly with grunts and other sounds. Linguists are divided as to whether to call these communications “language,” but they all agree that no other species has anything close to human language. If other animals do communicate, it is mostly with one-word, one-concept utterances. They do not make sentences or paragraphs that combine many different concepts into complicated ideas or long stories. Humans have had some success in teaching their own (sign) language to chimpanzees, but chimps have not developed languages on their own, and their use of human language is quite limited. Language greatly improves the brain’s powers. It enables the brain to store and retrieve information, to use logic and reasoning, to infer abstract causes such as per-

The Individual and Society


sonality traits or gravity, and in other ways to think more effectively. But language requires a group (indeed a fairly intelligent one). You cannot have a language by yourself. What did nature have to instill in order to enable humans to benefit from language? We had to be able to learn, speak, and hear thousands of different words. The human vocal cords and speaking apparatus are remarkably more sensitive and finetuned than the grunting of apes. We also had to have a brain that could remember the meanings of thousands of words and, even more impressively, could use grammar, which enables us to combine the same words in different ways to convey different meanings (e.g., Ralph hit Joan versus Joan hit Ralph). progress the accumulation of knowledge over long periods of time

Progress. A second advantage of culture is progress. Animals learn mainly from their

division of labor situation in which each person performs one narrow, highly specialized job in the culture

Division of Labor. Another benefit of culture is division of labor. All human beings need food, water, and shelter, but how many people do you know who hunt or grow all their own food, fetch all their water from a nearby river, and build their own houses? Instead, each person performs one narrow, highly specialized job in the culture, such as selling insurance or composing music or preparing tax returns. The advantage of division of labor is that everyone can learn to perform one job well, instead of performing many different tasks without much practice. Thus every task can be done by a specialist and an expert, and everything gets done better. If you built your own house and grew your own food, your food and shelter would probably be vastly inferior to what you normally enjoy in a culture with division of labor. Consider the evolution of American football. Football is a highly competitive sport in which vast amounts of money and prestige depend on being slightly better than one’s opponents, so football teams are always on the lookout for any small advantage or improvement. When the game was first invented, the same eleven players played the entire game. Everyone played both offense and defense (and special teams). But teams discovered that by having players specialize, they could play better. By the 1960s, most teams had entirely separate players for offense and defense. Since then, specialization has increased even more. Many teams have players who © Ace Stock Limited/Alamy

We don’t know how to make them or how they work, but we can still use electric toothbrushes.

own experience. Occasionally they copy what other animals do, but they do not generally accumulate knowledge over long periods of time. A clever ape might figure out a better way to get bananas, for example, but that innovation will usually die with him or her (Tomasello, 1999). Mostly each animal has to learn everything it needs itself, either by trial and error or by observing and copying what other apes do. In contrast, culture stores all the accumulated knowledge of each generation, enabling the next generation to start from there. Apes will only have electric toothbrushes if every ape can invent its own. In human culture, however, only one person has to invent an electric toothbrush, and then everyone can have one forever after. To foster this kind of progress, nature not only made humans prone to copy each other’s acts (as some animals do) but also to communicate information to each other deliberately. Storing information in lessons enables it to be shared and passed on. Many animals learn, but (almost) only humans teach (e.g., Tomasello, 1999), and certainly only humans have schools and libraries to teach knowledge to the next generation. Animal brains don’t have to have very large memories because they mainly remember what they have learned through direct experience, which is a limited amount. Human memory has to be vastly larger if we are to remember not only our own experiences but also what we learn from the culture’s stock of knowledge (such as from this textbook!).


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

only go into the game in a very specific type of situation, such as third down and short yardage. Roles became more specialized because the quality of performance improves that way. The same principle operates throughout human culture. The advantages of division of labor are so powerful that even nature has found ways to make use of them. The most familiar form involves gender differences, such that males and females specialize in different tasks. But nature mostly depends on relatively fixed and inflexible action patterns. Human culture, in contrast, takes advantage of much more flexible brains and selves, so that individuals can learn new tasks and roles that may not have existed fifty years earlier (such as astronaut, computer programmer, or investment banker). The progress of civilization is in part a story of ever-increasing specialization, based on increasing division of labor. Although some animals such as ants have distinct roles, individuals do not switch roles or hold multiple ones as humans do. For humans to benefit from division of labor (and there is evidence that some early “rough drafts” of human beings, such as Neanderthals, died out because they did not have division of labor and hence could not compete with other beings who did; Shogren et al., 2005), they had to have selves that were capable of taking on new roles and perhaps holding different roles at the same time. The remarkable flexibility of the human self will be covered in Chapter 3.

exchange of money for goods and services

In culture, total strangers can interact so that both benefit.

Exchanging Goods and Services. A fourth advantage of culture involves having a network of trade and exchange. When you buy a pair of socks from a store, both you and the store benefit: You get the socks you need, and the store gets money (which it needs). The exchange is thus a mutually beneficial interaction. In nonhuman animals, mutually beneficial interactions are found mainly between relatives. An animal will almost never give food to another animal unless they are closely related, such as parent and child, or brother and sister. The economic network allows humans to get food, and many other things, from total strangers. As economists have long recognized, people are better off when they can exchange goods and services than when they do not. As with other advantages of culture, nature had to create the traits and abilities to make the human psyche capable of exchange relationships. These included having a self capable of taking and holding a specialized role in a larger system (as with division of labor). Some “theory of mind” that enables people to see each other as having similar inner mental states was probably necessary. Some understanding of fairness would be helpful, including ideally a tendency to feel guilty if you get more than you deserve. The capacity of strangers to trust each other may also have been important, insofar as all economic transactions require some degree of trust. For example, consider how hard it is to do business when the parties do not trust each other. Often the structures of law and police are needed to enforce honesty and provide a basis for trust. When trust is not supported by anything—think of a large, illegal drug deal between strangers—the deal can easily fail or even end in violence. Through these and other advantages, culture has improved human life, including gains in survival and reproduction. By dint of cultural progress, human beings have been able to increase their life span to the point where people will soon be able to live for a century. They have also gained control over reproduction, making it immensely safer, more controllable, and more reliable. No other animals have been able to accomplish anything like it. © David Young-Wolff/PhotoEdit

network of trade and exchange the

Summary. Thus, culture offers great advantages, but these come at a price. In order to live in culture and take advantage of its benefits, people have to have many special psychological mechanisms. Perhaps those require-

Facts of LIfe


ments explain much about the human mind and psyche. People have to be capable of language, of understanding each other, of adopting social roles and holding them consistently, of being flexible enough to continue learning and changing throughout their lives, of thinking through complicated decisions, and of restraining some of their impulses so as to live together peaceably. Human culture only became possible when nature, by evolution, created beings who had those capabilities. In short, culture is a giant, organized system that brings significant advantages to human beings. Culture has enabled people to survive and reproduce very effectively, and it offers many other benefits (such as technology and medicine). Culture is what sets us apart from other animals. Much of social psychology becomes easier to understand if we think of people as creatures who were designed by nature to take part in cultural groups—that is, to want to and be able to interact with other people using information, roles, and rules.

Quiz Yourself 1.


The Individual and Society

Some species have bigger brains (for their body weight) than other species. What do big-brained species primarily use their brains for? (a) Big-brained species eat better foods. (b) Big-brained species roam over larger territories. (c) Big-brained species have larger and more complex social structures. (d) All of the above. Although the human brain constitutes about 2% of the human body mass, it consumes _____ of the calories that people consume. (a) 5% (b) 10% (c) 15% (d) 20%


In a common analogy used by psychologists, the brain is compared to a computer. In that analogy, culture is like the _____. (a) hardware (b) Internet (c) keyboard (d) software


Humans are best described as _____. (a) cultural animals (b) social animals (c) both cultural and social (d) neither cultural animals animals nor social animals

Answers: 1=c, 2=d, 3=b, 4=c

Facts of Life In the rest of this chapter, we will present several central ideas about how people think, feel, and act. These ideas will appear repeatedly in the book. They reflect the interplay of nature and culture in shaping the social psychology of humans.

Food and Sex Food and sex stretch all the way from very basic natural facts of life to complex and sophisticated behaviors. All creatures require some kind of nourishment in order to go on living, and all have to find some way to reproduce. Human beings, like the great majority of animals, eat food regularly and rely on sex for reproduction. Unlike other animals, however, humans develop cultural systems around food and sex. There is more to survival than food, and more to reproduction than sex, but eating and loving are two centrally important social behaviors, and we will look repeatedly at what social psychologists have learned about them. As we shall see, many of the topics favored by social psychologists (such as attitudes, prejudice, self-control, and aggression) have implications for eating and sex. Food and sex are not merely natural phenomena, however—at least when practiced by human beings. Both eating and sex have been transformed through the

Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

Eating is natural, but culture transforms it.

influence of culture. These changes indicate the power of ideas (what something means) to alter behavior so as to make it quite different from what is found in other species. It is true that humans resemble many other animals in that we all need to eat regularly. But only humans go on diets, have elaborate systems of etiquette and table manners, cook their food, experiment endlessly with recipes, serve meals to total strangers, and forego specific foods (or sometimes all food for a brief period) because of religious reasons. (For one striking example, see Food for Thought on vegetarianism!) Likewise, sexual behavior reveals both similarities and differences between human beings and other animals. Like most other animals, humans feel sexual desire and exhibit standard patterns of gender differences in sexuality, such as that females are more selective than males about possible sex partners. Unlike other animals, however, humans approach sexuality in a way that reflects the extensive influence of culture: People have norms and even formal laws that regulate sexual behavior, they worry about their sexual reputations, they feel anxiety about performing correctly, they consult sex therapists and advice columns to improve their sex lives, they typically look for very private settings in which to have sex, they invent procedures and devices that permit them to enjoy sex while preventing pregnancy, and sometimes they cultivate peculiar forms of sexual activity (such as phone sex or shoe fetishes) that have no parallels in the animal world. People have many ideas about sex and sometimes spend time and effort trying to figure out what it means. (Think of all the books, talk shows, and informal discussions about sex.) Is sex natural or cultural? In human beings, it is both, as is eating. Read The Social Side of Sex to learn more about the influence of culture on sex.

Bad Is Stronger Than Good Life is filled with good and bad events. Many of these are minor, such as saving a dollar on a purchase or bruising your leg against a table. Others are major, such as being dumped by a romantic partner or getting promoted to a great job. And some are mixed, such as losing weight by giving up most of the things you like to eat. Good and bad events are prominent issues for both nature (illness, warmth) and culture (medical science, warfare). As a general rule, however, the bad things have a stronger psychological impact than the good ones. Psychologists have found this to be true in many contexts

Ryan McVay/Getty Images

Andersen Ross/Getty Images

© David Young-Wolff/PhotoEdit

Alex Mares-Manton/Getty Images


Facts of LIfe


Food for Thought Virtuous Vegetarians vegetarians believe it is morally wrong to cook and eat other animals. The general principle of respect for life underlies the choices that many vegetarians make, but the diversity of restricted eating patterns reflects the importance of specific ideas. For example, based on religious views, some people will eat beef but not pork, whereas others eat pork but not beef. Some people call themselves vegetarians but will eat fish. (Fish do not fit their idea of the animals that should not be eaten.) Some cite the ideal of cherishing all life but feel no qualms about killing and eating plants. There are even a peculiar few who seem to feel more moral concern about animals than about many human beings. Adolf Hitler, who presided over some of the most horrific destruction of human life in world history, was an ardent supporter of animal rights. He practiced vegetarianism himself and sought to restrict and ban the hunting of animals. Nothing like this has been seen in any other species. There is no evidence of any animal that naturally eats meat but sometimes decides, for moral or religious reasons, to eat only plant food. Many human beings do precisely that, however. Such behavior is not found in nature but is well documented among human beings, and it reflects the power of meaning (ideas) to change and determine how people act.

Reprinted by permission of Creator's Syndicate, Inc.

The theme of this chapter is that human beings are indeed animals, but in many ways they are unlike any other animals. Human beings differ from other animals in that we are capable of having a complex, highly effective culture. Because we have culture, our behavior is shaped by ideas. Eating provides a good example of both the similarities and the differences between human beings and other animals. Let us consider the similarities first. Eating is one of the most basic and natural activities in the world, and evolutionary psychologists are correct in recognizing that human beings share the need to eat with animals from which they evolved. People need food to survive. Like other animals, we feel bad when we have not had enough to eat, and these bad feelings motivate us to seek food. Also, we avoid foods that have made us sick. But in other ways human eating is radically different from what is seen in the rest of the animal kingdom. Humans will eat or not eat foods because of ideas—that is, because of what they think it means to eat that food. There are many examples of people who reject food based on ideas. One of the most interesting of these involves people who choose to be vegetarians, and especially those who become vegetarians for moral reasons (Blackwell & Hutchins, 1994; Frey, 1983; Ritson, 1802; Tansey & D’Silva, 1999; Walters & Portmess, 1999). Moral principles form an important category of cultural ideas. Many people are vegetarians because they believe it is better for the planet Earth. A meat-based diet necessitates converting fertile farmland into areas for raising livestock. Some of this fertile land is tropical rainforest, and the destruction of rainforests can potentially cause harm to the planet’s entire network of living things. Based on this information, some people decide to do their part to help the planet by not eating meat. Others believe that by avoiding meat they can help reduce the suffering of other people, even people they have never met and who live in far-off lands. They consider that land is less productive when it is used to raise animals than grow plants (Resenburger, 1974). Some people become vegetarians because they believe in animal rights (more ideas!). They believe that moral principles that regulate human interactions should also be applied to how people interact with animals. Just as it would be immoral to cook and eat another person, these

(Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001; Rozin & Royzman, 2001). For example, people are more upset over losing $50 than they are happy about gaining $50 (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979, 1982). Whether a romantic relationship survives or breaks up depends more on whether the partners do hurtful, destructive things than on whether they do loving, constructive things (Gottman, 1979, 1994; Gottman &


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

The Social Side of Sex Sex and Culture Sex has been a bitter battleground between those who explain it on the basis of nature and evolution and those who emphasize cultural construction. Is sex a matter of genes and hormones causing people to feel desires the way nature has prescribed them? Or is culture the principal cause of who wants to do what to whom in bed? Some features of sexuality are found everywhere and may well be rooted in nature. In all cultures, for example, men seem to desire a greater number of sexual partners than women (Pedersen, Miller, Putcha-Bhagavatula, & Yang, 2002). Sex is everywhere the main way (and usually the only way) to make babies. The same basic sex practices are known to most cultures. Sex historian Reay Tannahill (1980) observed that the sex manuals written thousands of years ago in ancient China covered almost all the same techniques one would find in a sex manual today, with only one exception (sadomasochism). Some other universal aspects of sex reflect the influence of culture. All known cultures have rules about sex (Frayser, 1985). Almost all human cultures know that sex leads to making babies, and efforts to prevent pregnancy have been found all over the world, though the ancient means of preventing conception (except for abstaining from sex) are generally less effective than modern technologies such as the birth control pill and the IUD. Some form of prostitution, in which people pay money for sex, is found in most large cultures, although many aspects of it (such as whether it is legally tolerated, and what it costs) differ substantially. Cultural differences in sex are also evident. In Guam, a law prohibits a woman from marrying while a virgin, so women who want to get married sometimes hire a man to deflower them. In Turkey, women are expected to be virgins until they marry, and until quite recently it was stan-

dard practice for many brides-to-be to have a medical examination to certify their virginity. Indonesian law prohibits masturbation and stipulates that anyone caught committing this crime should be beheaded. Lebanese men who have sex with male animals are likewise subject to the death penalty, but it is perfectly legal for them to have sex with female animals. In New Guinea, some tribes regard male–male sex as normal while people are growing up, and boys are expected to perform oral sex on young men as a way of acquiring fluids that produce masculine strength, but after marriage men are supposed to stop their homosexual activities and restrict themselves to their wives (Herdt, 1984). Liberty Corner, New Jersey, has a law prohibiting people from beeping the horn of a parked car during sexual intercourse; one can scarcely imagine what life must have been like in that town before that law restored peace and quiet. Another curious law comes from Liverpool, England: Topless salesgirls are forbidden to work in tropical fish stores, though not in other stores. Last, there are plenty of differences within a culture too. In the United States today, there are people who reach their 30th birthday while still virgins, whereas others have had sex with more than a dozen people by the age of 15. Millions of people go through their entire lives having sex with only one person (their spouse) and only in the missionary position (man on top, woman on bottom), whereas some people have more than a thousand sex partners without ever using the missionary position. Many people yearn for practices that others regard as dangerous perversions. Some people love to read about sex or watch films of people having sex, whereas others find those materials disgusting and want them to be outlawed. Nature or culture? There is ample evidence of both in human sexuality.

Krokoff, 1989; Huston et al., 2001; Huston & Vangelisti, 1991; Rusbult, Johnson, & Morrow, 1986). Bad parenting can lower a child’s IQ (from what genetic heredity would predict) more than good parenting can raise it (Rowe, Jacobson, & Van den Oord, 1999). Bad experiences called traumas can produce distress and psychological problems that linger for years, but it is rare for a good experience to have such a lasting effect. Indeed, the concept of trauma does not really have an opposite in the sense of a supremely good experience that leaves a lasting impact. The greater power of bad than good has surfaced in studies over what makes people happy or unhappy. Most people believe that health and money are important factors in happiness. And the data do confirm that health and money have some relevance—but mainly at the negative (bad) end (Campbell, Converse, & Rogers, 1976; Diener, 1984). That is, it is difficult to be happy if you are very sick or very poor, as compared to having average health or wealth. But at the good end, improvements

Facts of LIfe


make little difference. Being rich or very healthy does not contribute much to overall happiness, as compared to average health or wealth. Social psychologists have conducted many studies on how people form impressions of others they meet, and these studies repeatedly confirmed that bad is stronger than good. Their early theories assumed that people would construct a global impression of someone just by averaging all the person’s traits. For example, hearing that someone was friendly, polite, clever, handsome, and dishonest should result in an impression that was generally positive, given that there were four positive traits and one bad one. In fact, however, people would put the most emphasis on the bad trait (“dishonest” in this example). In study after study, the final impression people formed was more affected by any bad traits than by the good ones (Anderson, 1965; Czapinski, 1986; Feldman, 1966; Hamilton & Huffman, 1971; Hamilton & Zanna, 1972; Hodges, 1974; Martijn, Spears, Van der Pligt, & Jacobs, 1992; Skowronski & Carlston, 1987, 1989, 1992; Wyer & Hinkle, 1971; Vonk, 1993, 1996, 1999; Vonk & Knippenberg, 1994). One paper focusing specifically on moral and immoral actions concluded that “Two rights don’t make up for a wrong” (Riskey & Birnbaum, 1974), finding that a person’s moral character is typically judged by the worst thing the person is known to have done, with good or virtuous actions having considerably less impact on how people judge him or her. Other research showed that one bad deed can destroy a good reputation, whereas one good act cannot redeem or repair a bad reputation (Skowronski & Carlston, 1992). The greater psychological power of bad than good is probably rooted in nature. After all, death only has to win once, whereas life has to win every day if the creature is to go on living. It is more important to avoid every danger than to take advantage of every opportunity. One bad food experience will teach a person, or indeed almost any animal, to avoid that kind of food, whereas a good experience with that same food has a much weaker effect. Experiments with rats have also confirmed the greater power of bad than good, suggesting that the power of bad is deeply rooted in nature rather than just a product of culture (because rats aren’t cultural animals). In one clever set of studies, rats exerted more effort to escape punishment than to gain rewards (Brown, 1940). And studies of the human brain’s reactions have suggested that the brain seems hardwired to react more strongly to bad or unpleasant things than to good or pleasant ones (Bartholow, Fabiani, Gratton, & Bettencourt, 2001; Gauggel, Wietasch, Bayer, & Rolko, 2000; Ito et al., 1998). To some extent, cultures try to counteract the power of bad by holding out promises of wonderful, positive experiences. People are drawn to these images and often seek to live by them. People may subscribe to the promise of permanent bliss and fulfillment that is contained in cultural ideas about passionate love, fame, or career success, even though research tends to show that these wonderful experiences are short-lived (e.g., Braudy, 1986; Hatfield & Rapson, 1987; Levinson, 1978). Psychologists have devoted most of their research efforts to studying bad experiences such as traumas and mental illness, but a recent movement called “positive psychology” has sought to balance out that work by devoting more research to the good things in life. The fact that bad is stronger than good does not mean that humans will end up being miserable all the time. On the contrary, most people report being pretty happy (e.g., Campbell, 1981), probably because they have many more good experiences than bad ones. So even if the bad ones are stronger, as long as they are fewer, good can win. To learn more about the implications for positive psychology, read Is Bad Stronger Than Good?

Tradeoffs: When You Can’t Have It All Most people will have to spend part of their adult lives commuting between home and work. Suppose you are facing this problem. It is too far to walk, and you have to choose between traveling by car (as many people do) or on horseback (as many people have done in the past). Which is better? A car is safer, faster, more reliable, and less messy. It is better at keeping you warm and dry when the weather is bad. It is


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

Is Bad Stronger Than Good? Bad, Good, and Positive Psychology In the 1990s, Martin Seligman, who was president of the American Psychological Association, started an important new movement in psychology. He had built his career by studying all kinds of dismal and negative aspects of human life, including learned helplessness and depression. At one point, however, he decided that he and many other psychologists had focused too much attention on these negative aspects of human behavior. He proposed that the field needed a “positive psychology” movement to balance out the negatives. Positive psychology would study ways of making human life better, enriching human experience, and helping people cultivate their potentialities. This movement has continued to grow and thrive ever since (e.g., Gable, in press). The fact that bad things are stronger than good ones underscores the need for positive psychology. Precisely because bad experiences have such power, it is necessary to promote and cultivate good experiences in order to counteract them. The key principle is that in order for life to be good, there must be many more good experiences than bad ones. The fact that bad is stronger than good does not mean that the world is doomed or that evil is destined to triumph in the end. Good can win by force of numbers. That is, one bad event may have a bigger effect than one good event,

positive psychology the branch of psychology that studies ways of making human life better, enriching human experience, and helping people cultivate their potentialities

tradeoff a choice in which taking or maximizing one benefit requires either accepting a cost or sacrificing another benefit

but most lives include many more good events than bad ones. Saying something hurtful to your romantic partner may have a more lasting effect than saying something nice, but many relationships survive for decades, simply because people say far more nice than nasty things to each other. Some positive psychologists (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005) have found some exciting evidence about how good can triumph over bad. First, they used a questionnaire to distinguish people who were generally flourishing in life, which positive psychologists seek to promote, from people who were not flourishing. Flourishing meant multiple things, including getting along well with others, liking oneself, dealing well with the world, growing, having autonomy, and making a contribution to society. Next, the researchers followed the two groups for a month and had them record the emotions they felt each day. The researchers then tallied up each person’s emotions across the month, to see the ratio of good to bad. Nearly all participants reported more good feelings than bad ones, but the ratio was higher for the flourishing people. The cutoff seems to be about three to one—that is, people flourish in life when they have about three times as many positive emotions as negative emotions. The nonflourishing people tended to have only twice as many good feelings as bad ones.

better at waiting in the parking lot for eight or nine hours. It may even be less expensive, when you factor in all the costs of keeping a horse. In short, cars are clearly better than horses for commuting to work in modern life. Hence, it’s not surprising that modern commuters almost never choose horseback over auto travel. Other choices are less clear-cut, however. Even the choice of what kind of car to buy is one that lacks a universal right answer. Small cars are often cheaper than large cars and get better gas mileage, but they may not be as safe (less metal protecting you in a collision), nor can they carry as much stuff. Locally made cars may be cheaper than ones made overseas, but perhaps they are not as reliable. Some cars are more stylish or offer more luxuries, but they cost more. Red cars attract more attention than cars of other colors, but the added attention has its own tradeoffs: Red cars may bring more admiring glances from envious neighbors and may be easier to find in the parking lot, but they also get more speeding tickets despite having the same average speed as other cars, possibly because police also notice them more (Newman & Willis, 1993). When there is no option that is clearly the best in every respect (as with cars), choices have tradeoffs. A tradeoff is a choice in which taking or maximizing one benefit requires either accepting a cost or sacrificing another benefit. Every option you consider has both advantages and disadvantages. (With cars, for example, buying the smaller car improves your gas mileage but sacrifices safety or comfort.) A human being is often faced with such complicated choices, and it is necessary to find some way to add up all the pluses and minuses in order to pick one option.

Facts of LIfe

Tradeoffs are an important feature of human social life. Many decisions and dilemmas involve tradeoffs, so that there is no one right answer that will suit everyone. (In this way, tradeoffs also preserve diversity, because there is more than one way to be, with none being the best.) Solving one problem will sometimes create another. Modern culture confronts individuals with a seemingly endless array of choices, and most of these present tradeoffs. Want to eat something delicious, or something less fattening? Want shoes that will be fashionable, or comfortable? Should you take an extra course and thereby learn more, or have a lower workload next semester? Follow your plan or follow your heart? One very important set of tradeoffs concerns time. Most commonly, the tradeoff requires choosing between something that has benefits right now versus something that has benefits in the future. Our shorthand term for this sort of tradeoff is “now versus tomorrow.” Studies of delay of gratification (Mischel, 1974, 1996) often make the tradeoff between present and future explicit. In a typical study, a child will be offered a choice between having one cookie right now—or three cookies if the child can wait for 20 minutes. The ongoing controversy about drug use in sports involves a tradeoff, including a time dimension. Many athletes are tempted to try performance-enhancing drugs. Purists condemn these usages, likening drug use to cheating. But are sports different from everyday life? If you drink a cup of coffee to make yourself more alert for your psychology exam, are you cheating? Are people who use Prozac to make themselves cope better with life, or Viagra to make them perform better in bed, cheaters? And before long gene splicing may be used to make people stronger, larger, faster, and better in other athletic realms—would those people (who benefited from events before they were born) be cheaters too? One objection to letting athletes use performance-enhancing drugs is that these may be harmful. Some of them are. The tradeoff of now versus tomorrow is especially apparent in these cases, because the so-called sports dopers trade future health problems for current athletic success. Even there, different people will decide the tradeoff differently. Bob Goldman, who founded the National Academy of Sports Medicine, once polled 200 Olympic-caliber American athletes about this question. He asked, if you could legally take a performance-enhancing drug that would guarantee that you would win every sports competition you entered for the next five years—but that would eventually kill you—would you take it? The majority (though not all) said yes (Dion & Mellor, 2004). Natural selection has not favored caring about the distant future. Our sensory organs tell us what is here right now. Our feelings and desires focus on the immediate present. The idea of sacrificing present joy for the sake of greater joy in the future would be foreign, difficult, even incomprehensible to most animals. A dramatic demonstration of the difference emerged from a study with chimpanzees (Roberts, 2002). They were fed only once a day, always at the same time, and they were allowed to have all the food they wanted. Like humans and many other animals, chimps prefer to eat multiple times during the day, so they were always very hungry in the last couple hours before their next scheduled feeding. A sensible response would have been to keep some of the available food for later, especially for the hungry hours the next morning, but the animals never learned to do this. They would rejoice over the food when it came. They would eat their fill, and then they would ignore the rest, sometimes even engaging in food fights in which they would throw the unwanted food at each other or off into space. Yet, despite repeated trials, they never learned to store food for later. Even the short span of 24 hours was apparently beyond their cognitive capacity for adjusting their behavior. In contrast, humans routinely acquire and store food for days, or even weeks and months. Human beings are thus quite different from other animals. In particular, the conscious human mind can form ideas about the distant future, and current © imagebroker/Alamy

Don’t forget to save some for later.



Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

behavior can be changed on the basis of those ideas. Indeed, for most people, going to college is partly an exercise in delay of gratification. A young person can earn money right away by Advanced degree getting a job right out of high school rather than going to college (which typically costs money rather than earning any). College degree College students often have to live in crowded dormitories with rickety furniture and unappetizing food, whereas if they dropped out and got a job they could rent a nicer apartment High school diploma and could afford to eat better. In the long run, however, col1982 lege pays off: College graduates earn about $900,000 more 2002 than high school graduates over their careers, and as a result Less than high school they live better in many ways (Mullins, 2004; see ● Figure 2.1). Going to college thus sacrifices some immediate pleasures for $0 $20,000 $40,000 $60,000 $80,000 the sake of a better future life. Median Annual Income The future is more important to cultural beings than to other animals, so the capacity to orient oneself toward the ● Figure 2.1 future rather than the present is probably a crucial skill for Education pays off! During the any cultural being to have. A person who always lived just for today, enjoying the past 20 years, those with the current moment with no regard for the future, would not prosper in human society. most education have had the Such a person would never pay bills, wash the laundry or dishes, brush or floss teeth. fastest growth in wages. Such a person would probably eat candy and pastries rather than vegetables. Such a person would probably not go to college or hold down a job. Such a person would make no commitments that required sacrifices, such as to sustain a close relationship. Such a person would never save any money. Such a person would probably disregard any laws that were inconvenient. That style of life is simply not suited for life in a cultural society. To live for any length of time in modern society, it is necessary to pay bills, take care of things, eat reasonably healthy food, obey the laws, exercise, and the like. Many of these acts entail some sacrifice in the short run. In the long run, however, the benefits that come from living in such a society make those sacrifices well worthwhile. Tradeoffs talks about how political decisions in a culture often face tradeoffs. Facing up to tradeoffs is not easy. In fact, there is some research evidence that people dislike tradeoffs (Luce, 1998; Luce et al., 1997, 2001). When a decision has to be made, people prefer to think that there is one best or right answer. They like to think that what they choose will bring the best all-around outcomes, and they dislike thinking that they have really lost out on some things in order to get other things. You may find that you don’t like the tradeoffs that we will present throughout the book, because it is more comforting to think that there is always a single best answer. It is apparently normal to dislike the idea of tradeoffs, but don’t let that prevent you from seeing how widespread and important tradeoffs really are. Facts of Life


All known cultures have rules about _____. (a) agriculture (b) sex (c) sleeping (d) All of the above


The sex manuals written thousands of years ago in ancient China cover almost all the same techniques one would find in a sex manual today, with the exception of _____. (a) different positions for (b) masturbation having sexual intercourse (c) sadomasochism (d) use of external devices for sexual stimulation


The principle that “bad is stronger than good” applies to what domain? (a) Health (b) Money (c) Romantic relationships (d) All of the above


The advantage of earning a college degree has _____ from 1982 to 2002. (a) decreased (b) remained the same (c) increased (d) none of the above

Answers: 1=b, 2=c, 3=d, 4=c

Quiz Yourself

Important Features of Human Social Life


Tradeoffs Political Tradeoffs Tradeoffs are abundant in politics. Have you ever wondered why governments keep passing new laws, even though they hardly ever cancel any old ones? You would think that after making more and more laws every year for hundreds of years, there would finally be enough. But one explanation is that most laws are designed to remedy an existing problem, and sometimes they create new problems. Tradeoffs are responsible for some of the problems that crop up. As one famous example, in the 1990s the Ohio state legislature heard some sad stories about babies being born in prison (because their mothers were serving time). Taking pity on the babies, they passed a new law to release pregnant women from prison. This solved one problem but created another, because all the women in Ohio prisons realized that they could get out of prison if they got pregnant, and many women would rather have a baby than be in prison. Female convicts began eagerly trying to have sex with male guards and lawyers. Some inmates would get a weekend pass to attend a relative’s funeral—but would skip the funeral and spend the weekend having as much unprotected sex as possible. Thus, there was a tradeoff between preventing babies from being born in prison and encouraging more prisoners to get pregnant, and the law had to be repealed. One important political tradeoff links energy issues to environmental ones. Should American oil companies drill for oil in our national forests, where an accident might cause an oil spill that could destroy part of a beautiful forest and kill its wildlife? Many people want to protect the environment, yet they don’t want to pay more for gasoline and electricity—and these goals are in conflict. Hence there is a tradeoff: The more you protect the environment, the more expensive power becomes. It is hard to strike exactly the right balance. Another tradeoff connects taxes to government services. Everything the government does—maintain an army and police force, collect the garbage, provide public schools at whatever level of quality, deliver the mail, provide food for the poor—costs money, and the main method for governments to get money is to collect taxes. In general, higher taxes enable the government to provide more services. Here again

is a tradeoff, because people do not want to pay high taxes, but they do want their government to provide good services. To what extent do politicians recognize these tradeoffs? Social psychologist Phillip Tetlock (1981, 2000) analyzed the speeches of many politicians, with an eye toward whether they recognized that many problems have two sides. He noted, however, that politicians face another tradeoff in their own careers, because they have to get elected. If one politician says “Everything is expensive, and I can’t give you better government services unless we raise taxes,” whereas another says “I will give you better services AND lower taxes,” the second one may be more likely to win the election. Tetlock found that politicians seem to shuffle back and forth as to whether they acknowledge tradeoffs. When running for election, they make simple promises and ignore the political realities of tradeoffs. A successful candidate might well promise cheaper energy AND better protection for the environment, in order to win the most votes. Once elected, however, politicians suddenly begin to recognize the complexity of tradeoffs, and their speeches often refer frankly to the difficulty of the choices, such as noting with regret that efforts to get cheaper oil may well require some sacrifices in environmental protection. Is this change a matter of learning? After all, when one is just running for office and does not have any actual responsibilities of government, it may be possible to make all sorts of promises without fully realizing the tradeoffs involved. (Most politicians, like most people, really do want both cheaper energy and a cleaner environment.) Maybe they don’t realize the tradeoffs until they actually hold office and have to face up to the difficult choices. But this is not what Tetlock concluded. He found that politicians acknowledge tradeoffs when they are in office—but only until their campaigns for reelection start. At that point, they go back to simple statements that promise all things, disregarding tradeoffs. Tetlock concluded that politicians are dealing with the tradeoff built into the election process, which is that to win an election you must oversimplify the issues and ignore the implicit contradictions.

Important Features of Human Social Life In this section, we will cover several features of human social life that set humans apart from other animals and that are crucial for understanding social interaction among humans. They reflect important ways that human life is shaped by the social environment, especially culture. These themes will come up repeatedly in the chapters that follow.


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

The Duplex Mind

duplex mind the idea that the mind has two different processing systems (conscious and automatic)

The human mind has two main systems. In a sense, this is what Freud said when he distinguished between the conscious ego and the unconscious. Most experts no longer accept Freud’s account of how the mind is laid out, but there is a new and exciting version of the theory that the mind has two parts. We call this the duplex mind, as in a duplex house with two separate apartments. Unfortunately, the experts don’t agree about what to call these two systems or exactly what goes where. Here we will try to give you one summary version that combines many views, but you should be aware that many different variations exist and many details are disputed. Two Systems. We can call the two systems the automatic and the conscious. The

automatic system the part of the mind outside of consciousness that performs simple operations

conscious system the part of the mind that performs complex operations

automatic system is outside of consciousness, though it is not a Freudian kind of unconscious full of repressed urges and thoughts you are afraid to think. Instead, it is like a team of little robots doing lots of simple jobs to make your life easier (Wilson, 2002). Whereas Freud thought that the unconscious often trips you up by making you say or do the wrong thing, the automatic system is usually very helpful. It handles the endless mundane tasks, such as interpreting, organizing, and categorizing all the information that comes in through your eyes and ears. For example, it might sort through the stream of babbling sounds that your ears hear in order to pick out the score of the game involving your favorite team, and it links that score with relevant information in your memory, such as how your team is doing generally and whether today’s outcome will help it qualify for the playoffs. The conscious system is the other “half ” of the duplex mind. (We put “half ” in quotation marks because a precise comparison of sizes is not possible given the present state of knowledge. Most likely the automatic system is much bigger than the conscious system.) Though people sometimes think they are conscious of everything in their minds, in reality they are conscious of only one part—but that is a very important part. The conscious system is what seems to turn on when you wake up and turn off when you go to sleep. The automatic system continues to operate during sleep, which is why you can hear the alarm clock and wake up. It also moves the body around in bed, as when you bump into your sleeping partner and roll away without waking up. It processes information, too: You will wake up to the sound of your own name spoken more softly than almost any other word, which means that your mind can tell the difference in the meanings of words (Oswald, Taylor, & Treisman, 1960). Telling the difference is the job of the automatic system.

Not thinking about their feet.

Stockbyte/Getty Images

What Is Consciousness For? Most people think their con-

scious minds are in charge of everything they do. They believe the conscious mind constantly directs their actions and their train of thought. These beliefs are false. The automatic system generally runs almost everything. Consider walking, for example, which is something that most people do over and over all day long. Do you consciously control the movements of your legs and feet? Does your conscious mind have to say, “Now pick up the left foot, swing it forward, hold it high enough so it doesn’t bump the ground, set down the heel, roll forward, shift weight off the back foot,” and so forth? Of course not. Some day watch a small child who is just learning to walk, and you may see what happens when the conscious mind tries to figure out how to make the body walk. But after walking has been learned, the person almost never thinks about it again. Walking is done automatically. At most, the conscious mind thinks that it’s time to walk to the cafeteria, and off you go without giving the matter another thought.

Important Features of Human Social Life


Over the past couple of decades, there has been a huge shift in psychological theory about the role of consciousness. This change has been driven by the rise in research findings that show how much the automatic system does. Much of behavior is driven and directed by these automatic responses that occur outside of awareness. Many of these findings will be covered in subsequent chapters. The combination of them has led many experts to begin questioning what consciousness is good for—if anything! The automatic system can learn, think, choose, and respond. It has ideas and emotions, or at least simple versions of them. It knows your “self ” and other people. Even when people believe they are deciding something, often it can be shown that the automatic system had already decided. Their decisions were swayed by subliminal cues or other bits of information that were processed automatically and of which the person was unaware. Many experts today believe that consciousness doesn’t really do much of anything. Michael Gazzaniga (1998, 2003) concluded from his split-brain studies that consciousness is just a side effect of other processes and of thinking about the future, and that it doesn’t serve any important function. Daniel Wegner (2002) thinks consciousness is simply a kind of emotional signal to call attention to our own actions so we don’t confuse them with what other people have done. John Bargh (1982, 1994; Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996; Bargh, Gollwitzer, Lee-Chai, Barndollar, & Trötschel, 2001) has observed that the automatic system does more than we thought and the conscious system less, and maybe the field will soon conclude that the conscious system doesn’t do anything at all. With all due respect to these experts, we disagree. We think that the conscious system was difficult and expensive (in terms of biological requirements) for nature to give us, and so most likely there are some very profound advantages that make consciousness worth it. Yes, the automatic system does most of the work of the psyche, but the conscious system probably does something very important too. Most likely these special jobs involve complex kinds of thought that combine information and follow explicit rules, as in logical reasoning (Lieberman, Gaunt, Gilbert, & Trope, 2003). Differences Between the Systems. For now, it is important to know that the two systems exist and to appreciate their established differences. These are summarized in ● Table 2.1 (Bargh, 1994; Donald, 2002; Kahneman & Tversky, 2002; Lieberman, Gaunt, Gilbert, & Trope, 2002).

● Table 2.1



The Duplex Mind: Conscious and Automatic Systems




Outside of conscious control

Guided by intention




Good at combining information

Poor at combining information

Precise, rule-based calculations


Can perform complex operations

Simple operations

Does one thing at a time

Can do many things at once





Features full-blown emotions

Features quick feelings of like and dislike, good and bad

Depends on automatic system

Can be independent of conscious processing

“Figure it out”

“Go with your gut feeling”


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

First, there is a difference in how much each system can do at the same time. The automatic system is like many different little machines doing many unrelated or loosely related things at once. The conscious system does one thing at a time. As you read, your automatic system converts the visual images of letters into words, converts the words into meanings, and links the information with all sorts of things that are already stored in memory. Meanwhile, you consciously have only one thought at a time. The automatic system is quick and efficient. It performs tasks quite effectively and with relatively little effort. In contrast, the conscious system is slow and cumbersome. Return to the example of walking: Try the experiment of consciously controlling every muscle movement while you are walking. You can do it, but it is very slow and awkward. That is why the mind naturally tries to make everything automatic. The conscious system often requires effort, while the automatic system doesn’t. In fact, you have to start yourself to consciously think about some things, but the automatic system starts by itself and often cannot be stopped. If we show you a word with a missing letter, you probably cannot stop yourself from filling in the blank. Try to read these letters without thinking of a word: K*LL. Probably you can’t. The automatic system is too quick and efficient. It gives you the answer before your conscious mind can even think to formulate the question. All the differences mentioned so far favor the automatic system. If it were better at everything, however, we would have to conclude that the conscious system is just a poorer, dumber, less effective system all around, which would raise the question of why we have it at all. (And that’s why some experts, like the ones quoted above, have begun to doubt openly that it has any value.) But the conscious system does have some advantages. First, the conscious system is much more flexible than the automatic system. The automatic system is like a well-programmed robot or computer. It performs standard, familiar tasks according to the program, and it does them very reliably, quickly, and efficiently. But when the automatic system confronts something novel and unfamiliar, it doesn’t know how to deal with it. The conscious mind, slow and cumbersome as it is, is much better at confronting novel, unfamiliar circumstances and deciding how to react. The advantage of the conscious system in dealing with novel circumstances is probably one crucial reason that human beings, as cultural animals, developed consciousness. Life in a cultural society is vastly more complicated, in terms of encountering new, unexpected, and unfamiliar dilemmas, than the lives of most other creatures. Imagine a robot that has been programmed to sort red beans from green beans. It will probably do this effectively and quickly, even performing much better than a human being. But then along comes a banana! The robot won’t know what to do with a banana, unless it was programmed for that eventuality too. Unlike a robot, a conscious human mind can deal with the banana even when it was expecting only red and green beans. Another crucial advantage of the conscious system is that it is able to combine information in complex, rule-driven ways. An automatic system that has been well trained can estimate that, say, 6 times 53 is a few hundred, but only the conscious system can calculate that it is precisely 318. The conscious system alone can perform complex logical reasoning. The influential social psychologist Daniel Kahneman (e.g., Kahneman & Tversky, 2002) prefers to describe the thinking styles of the two systems as reasoning versus intuition. The automatic system is intuitive, in the sense that it is guided by gut reactions and quick feelings rather than a process of carefully thinking through all the implications of a problem. When you face a decision and someone advises you to “go with your gut feeling,” that person is essentially telling you to rely on your automatic system (and its intuitions) rather than trying to reason through the problem logically, as the conscious system will do. Often that is good advice, because the automatic system does produce quick and usually good answers. But the highest achievements and advances of culture depend on the application of careful reasoning, which is the province of the conscious system.

© Kayte M. Deioma/PhotoEdit

Important Features of Human Social Life

And why shouldn’t I?

How They Work Together. The two parts of the duplex mind are not entirely independent of each other. In fact, they often work together. The automatic system serves the conscious system, in the sense that it operates behind the scenes to make conscious thought possible. You may think consciously that something you heard on the radio is illogical. But before that can happen, the automatic system has to have done a great deal of work: It processed the stream of sounds into comprehensible language, understood the gist of the message, and activated various other ideas in your memory that were associated with the core idea. The automatic system also works like an alarm system that signals to the conscious system that something is wrong and that careful, conscious thinking is needed. For example, suppose you heard on the news that someone was seriously injured at a campus party last night, and the dean was recommending that all further parties be canceled. Your automatic system understands the reasoning: Party caused injury, injury is bad, so parties are bad, so the dean cancels all parties. But the automatic system also connects this news to your own feelings, and you realize: Wait! I love parties! I don’t want parties to be canceled! This is about as far as the automatic system can process, but it sends out an alarm to the conscious system. Now you can reason through the situation consciously: One party caused an injury, but that doesn’t reflect badly on all parties; there should be a way to reduce or avoid further injuries without canceling all parties. In that way, the two systems work together.

Conscious Override. Sometimes the two systems work against each other, however. One particularly important case is when the conscious system overrides the automatic impulse. You feel like doing something, but you restrain yourself. For example, if you are looking forward to having a donut, and you see someone else take the last donut just before you get to the serving tray, you may have a natural impulse to protest. Hey! Give me my donut! You might even feel like grabbing it out of that person’s hand. After all, most other animals would act that way if someone took their food. But human beings can restrain that impulse. Rarely do human beings come to blows over the last donut. Indeed, the point that people restrain themselves is an important key to the psychology of aggression. We shall see that a great many factors cause aggression: violent films, hot temperatures, frustration, and affronts to one’s pride. Given that nearly everyone occasionally experiences frustration, wounded pride, media violence, and heat, you might think that human beings would be constantly violent. But in reality people are not usually aggressive or violent. Why not? People may have many angry impulses, but they restrain them. The conscious mind is often vital for overriding the impulses that the automatic system produces. As we shall see, this pattern is found in many spheres of social behavior, from dieting to prejudice. Conscious overriding is vital to life in culture. Culture is full of rules about how to behave—norms, guidelines, laws, morals, and expectations. You can’t just do whatever you feel like at any moment. Moreover, many situations are complicated and have hidden implications, so it is best to stop and think before acting. Imagine you were a peasant farmer a couple of thousand years ago, and one day some men rode into town on horses and said they wanted your food. Your natural impulse would be to refuse—but that might get you killed. It would be better for your conscious mind to override the impulse to protest and for © William Gottlieb/Corbis

Go with your gut feeling, or figure out what is best?



Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

you to hold your tongue, at least until you could come up with a better plan for dealing with these possibly dangerous intruders.

The Long Road to Social Acceptance Living in a culture offers many advantages as compared with living in a merely social group. But it also makes much greater demands. Consider what it takes to live in a North American city. If you’re a bird, maybe you can just blow into town, find an empty tree, build a nest, and then hang around with some others until they let you stay. As a human, you need an apartment, which may take you a week of checking advertisements and going around to different addresses. (And to do that, you need to know how to read, how to use a map, and how to get and use a newspaper.) You’ll probably need to sign a lease promising to live there for a year. You need money to pay the rent, and probably that means you will need a job. A job typically requires credentials, such as education and training, and these may take years to obtain. A better job means more money, but it probably requires more training, and you have to perform well to keep the job. Finding a romantic partner is a much more complicated process in human beings than in other animals. You need to know where to meet people, how to act on a date, how to play the games and roles that are in fashion in this particular group. This is one of the basic jobs of the human self: to garner acceptance. You need to figure out what other people prefer and expect, and then you need to change yourself to meet those expectations. The requirements for social acceptance are different in different cultures and eras. In the Victorian era (late 1800s), people who picked their noses or said four-letter words aloud were considered socially unacceptable, and so most middle- and upper-class people learned to avoid doing those things. Nowadays saying four-letter words is more acceptable in many circles, whereas picking your nose is still frowned upon. Outside the lab, people have to do many things to obtain social acceptance. It is not just a matter of etiquette. As noted above, people need to acquire skills and credentials, gain the discipline to hold down a job, attract and hold relationship partners, and so on.

Built to Relate The long road that humans travel to social acceptance means that people have to do a great deal of work to get along with others. To do that, they must develop many skills and capabilities. One thing that sets humans apart from other animals is how many inner, psychological traits they have that help them get along. These include the understanding that other humans have inner states like theirs, the capacity for language, and the ability to imagine how others perceive them. This brings up one very important and broadly helpful theme: What is inside people is there because of what happens between people. That is, inner processes serve interpersonal functions. The psychological traits people have are designed to enable humans to connect with each other. At first blush, it seems the other way around: What is inside people determines what happens between them. Because we are capable of language, we talk to other people. Because we have emotional responses of love and affection, we become attached to others. There is some truth to this view, but only from a relatively narrow perspective. To understand human nature, it is important to recognize that evolution created humans with the capacity for language and the emotional capabilities for love and affection because these traits improved people’s ability to connect with others. Earlier in this chapter we discussed the social brain theory, which asserted that evolution made intelligent brains not for understanding the physical environment but rather to increase the capability for having social relations. The intelligent brain is one of the defining traits of human beings. This was a first example of the pattern of inner processes serving interpersonal functions: The inner processes and struc-

Important Features of Human Social Life


tures (in this case, the intelligent brain) evolved for the sake of improving interpersonal relations. As with other themes, we should be careful not to overstate the case. Not all inner processes are there to serve interpersonal processes. Hunger and thirst, for example, are clearly there to prompt the animal or person to get enough food and water to sustain life. Hunger and thirst are thus inner processes that do not serve interpersonal functions. Still, many of the more advanced, complex, and interesting psychological phenomena do promote social interaction. Thus, a social psychology approach to human nature will emphasize that many (though not all) inner processes exist for the sake of interpersonal interaction. In the next few chapters, we will see that the self, thinking, and emotion (among others) seem well designed to help people form and maintain relationships with others. To use a stark contrast, trees do not interact with each other much at all; the inner processes of trees are indifferent to social interaction. A tree’s inner processes involve getting water from the soil, extracting energy from sunlight, and similar functions, none of which helps social interaction. Trees were designed by nature to survive alone and get what they need from their physical surroundings. In contrast, humans were designed by nature to develop relationships and share information with each other. The human psyche is designed for social purposes, and especially for cultural ones, insofar as culture is a better way of being social.

Nature Says Go, Culture Says Stop What aspects of human behavior come from nature as opposed to culture? There are many different answers, but one broad pattern is a theme that we summarize as “nature says go, culture says stop.” That is, people seem naturally to have impulses, wishes, and other automatic reactions that predispose them to act in certain ways. Culture serves not so much to create new wishes and desires as to teach or preach self-control and restraint. Thus, people may naturally feel sexual desires and aggressive urges at many points; they do not seem to need to be taught by culture to have those feelings. In that sense, sex and aggression are natural. But culture does have considerable influence on both sex and aggression. This influence mainly takes the form of restraining behaviors. Culture is full of rules that restrict sex, as by designating certain sexual acts or pairings as unacceptable. Sexual morality is mostly a matter of saying which sexual acts are wrong; likewise, laws about sex mainly prohibit sex acts. (Imagine laws that required people to have sexual intercourse on particular occasions!) Likewise, aggression is subject to a broad variety of cultural restraints, including moral prohibitions and laws that forbid many aggressive acts. Remember we said that culture works by ideas. Many of those ideas tell people what not to do. For example, most laws and moral principles say what not to do rather than what one should do. The Ten Commandments of Judeo-Christian religion, for example, mostly begin “Thou shalt not . . .” and then mention some specific behavior. The only two that don’t say “not” still imply it to some degree: Keeping the Sabbath holy is mostly a matter of not doing certain things (such as work or shopping) on the Sabbath, and honoring your parents is mostly a matter of refraining from disrespectful treatment. Thus, the most famous list of moral rules in Western culture is basically a list of ideas (rules) about what not to do, probably because people naturally sometimes feel urges to do precisely those things but the culture (including its religion) disapproves. To be sure, it would be a gross oversimplification to say that the role of nature is always to create positive desires and impulses or that culture only says what not to do. There are some important exceptions. Disgust reactions, for example, are quite natural and say “no” in a big way. Likewise, people may start eating because official policy and the clock (representing culture) say it is lunchtime, and they may stop eating because their inner sensations (representing nature) signal them that their bellies are full. In this case, culture says start and nature says stop. People may start engaging


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

in aggression because their government (culture) has declared war, and they may stop aggressing because bodily states (nature) of exhaustion or injury dictate that they cannot continue. Still, “nature says go, culture says stop” is probably right more often than it is wrong, and it provides a helpful way to understand much of the interplay between nature and culture. Throughout this book we will see many examples in which impulses arise naturally and are restrained, with difficulty, by individuals who exert themselves to comply with cultural rules. Nature made us full of desires and impulses, and culture teaches us to restrain them for the sake of being able to live together in peace and harmony. Self-control is one important psychological process that enables people to live in culture and follow cultural rules (e.g., Freud, 1930). And most acts of self-control involve stopping oneself from thinking, feeling, or doing something (Baumeister, Heatherton, & Tice, 1994). With regard to spending money, eating and dieting, sexual behavior, drinking alcohol or taking drugs, and many similar behaviors, having good self-control means holding oneself back instead of acting on every impulse. Dieters need self-control to keep themselves from eating too much or eating the wrong kinds of food, for example. The desire to eat is natural; the restraints are cultural.

Selfish Impulse Versus Social Conscience Selfishness is a particularly important instance of the principle that nature says go and culture says stop. To put the matter in overly simple terms, nature has made us selfish, but culture needs us to resist and overcome selfish impulses. Selfishness is natural. This is not to say that selfish behavior is good or appropriate, but only that nature programmed us to be selfish. This is probably rooted in the biological processes of natural selection. Natural selection favors traits that promote the survival and reproduction of the individual. Some biologists have occasionally proposed “group selection,” suggesting that natural selection will promote traits that sacrifice the individual for the sake of the group, but most biologists have rejected those arguments (Ridley, 1993, 2004). (Some experts think group selection may occur when the individual and group interests are aligned.) Each animal looks out for its own welfare and perhaps that of its children. The natural tendency, reinforced by countless centuries of evolution, is to want what is best for oneself. In contrast, culture often demands that what is best for society take precedence over the individual’s wants and needs. In order to get along with others, people must take turns, respect each other’s property, and stifle their anger or at least express it constructively. They may have to share their food and possessions, whether informally through acts of kindness or more systematically through taxes. Many will have to follow commands issued by authority figures. Animals that live in social groups have to make some sacrifices for the sake of the group, but these may be minimal. Culture often imposes far greater requirements

© Topham/The Image Works

© Sonda Dawes/The Image Works

© Sonda Dawes/The Image Works

© Ellen Senisi/The Image Works

Culture says stop by prohibiting certain behaviors.

Important Features of Human Social Life


in terms of restraining selfishness. All cultures have systems of morality, and one of the main thrusts of morality is to do what is best for the community rather than what is best for the self. To return to the example of the Ten Commandments, those rules are divided between commands to uphold the religion (such as by not having other gods) and rules against behaviors that would undermine society (murder, theft, adultery, lying, coveting other people’s things, and disrespecting one’s parents). Morality is often effective in small groups. In larger groups, law begins to take the place of morality, but it has the same overarching goal of restraining selfish actions in favor of what is best for the community (Friedman, 2001). The difference seems to be that morality relies on a network of social relationships and therefore works best on people who know each other. The more that social life involves contacts between strangers, the more that laws are needed instead of just morals. Even in modern societies, small groups such as families usually rely on morals and informal rules, because these are sufficient in the context of the relationship. Far more people are willing to cheat, betray, or exploit a stranger than a member of their own immediate family. Guilt—an important emotion that pushes people to behave morally instead of selfishly—is far more commonly felt in connection with friends and relatives than strangers (e.g., Baumeister, Reis, & Delespaul, 1995; Tangney & Darling, 2004). Thus, self-interest is a major battleground between nature and culture. The self is filled with selfish impulses and with the means to restrain them, and many inner conflicts come down to that basic antagonism. That conflict, between selfish impulses and self-control, is probably the most basic conflict in the human psyche. The capacity for consciously overriding impulses, described in the earlier section on the duplex mind, is often used in connection with the battle over self-interest. The natural and selfish impulses arise automatically. Morality, conscience, legal obedience, and other pathways to proper behavior often depend on conscious efforts to know and do the right thing.

Putting People First Can dogs hear better than people? If you have lived with a dog, you know they hear many things that people do not, such as very high or low tones, as well as very soft tones. One of your textbook authors is frequently teased by his wife that his dog is prone to barking at ghosts, because the dog will burst into barking for no reason that any person present can find. In that sense, dogs hear better than humans. On the other hand, dogs cannot distinguish between similar sounds. If your dog’s name is Fido, he will probably also respond to “buy low,” “hi ho,” “my dough,” and “Shiloh.” In that sense, dogs don’t hear as well as people. The explanation is probably rooted in a basic tradeoff in perceptual systems, but it contains an important clue about human nature. Most sense organs (even artificial ones such as cameras) have a tradeoff between detection (how much they can see) and resolution (how clearly they see it). For most animals, detection was emphasized over resolution—they will perceive something and respond long before they can tell precisely what it is. Humans have more emphasis on resolution, which means perceiving things precisely. Hence our ears cannot hear as wide a range of sounds, but we hear them much more distinctly. More broadly, the sensory organs of most animals are aimed at detecting other species. This is crucial for survival. Animals most spot the predators who want to eat them (in order to run away in time) and the animals they eat (so they can pursue and catch them). The human sensory system is quite unusual in that it is not aimed mainly at other species. Human sense organs, especially eyes and ears, seem designed to help us perceive each other. We can pick our beloved’s (or our enemy’s) face out of a crowd or a choir up on stage, and we can hear tiny differences in spoken sounds. Most likely, this unusual feature of human sense organs reflects a change in biological strategy. Nature selected humans to pursue survival and reproduction in a novel fashion. Instead of getting information from the environment, our sense organs are designed to help us get it from each other. And that’s what culture is all


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature

about—humans getting information from each other in order to survive and reproduce. This is another theme of this book; we call it putting people first. And it doesn’t stop with information. People get most of what they need from each other, instead of directly from the physical world around them. Consider food. Many animals spend most of their waking hours looking for food and eating it. They search their environment for things to eat. Some animals search alone, and others search together, but in general they get their food directly from nature. Human food comes from nature too, but most people now get their food from other people. Over the past year, how much of what you ate did you get directly from nature, by picking it off of plants or hunting and killing animals? Probably most, if not all, of what you ate came either from supermarkets, where the food prepared by others is sold, or in dining establishments such as restaurants and cafeterias, where food grown by some people is cooked and served by others. If all those institutions abruptly went out of business and people had to get their food directly from nature, most of us would not know how to go about it. Many people would go hungry. To be sure, humans evolved under conditions different from modern life, and early humans did often get their food directly from the natural environment. But the modern world probably reflects the special aspects of the human psyche better than the circumstances of prehistoric life. Humans are heavily interdependent and are quite good at developing cultural systems that allow people to benefit from each other’s work. (The earlier section on the advantages of culture noted that a market economy is an effective way to promote exchange of goods and services.) As people learned to make culture work effectively, it was no longer necessary for everyone to be able to hunt, fish, and/or grow food. Instead, you can become good at one very narrowly specialized task, such as repairing computers or selling compact discs or caring for broken legs, and your work at this task gives you money with which you can buy the many different things you need and want. What this tells us about the human psyche is that people have a deeply rooted tendency to look to each other first. When people have a problem or a need, they most often look to other people for help, relief, or satisfaction. Even when people just need information, they tend to get it from other people rather than directly from the world around them. Animals learn from their own experience. They deal with the physical world, and they are rewarded or punished depending on how things turn out. Humans, in contrast, rely much less on what they learn from their own direct experience with the physical world. People learn from each other and from the culture. The culture operates as a kind of “general store” of information. When people don’t know what to do, they typically ask someone else who knows the culture’s information. How do you get telephone service, or a new credit card? Is there sales tax on food? How early (before the scheduled start time) should one arrive for an airline flight, a bus trip, a baseball game, a physician’s appointment? Can I get my money back for something, and if so, how? These answers are not the specific wisdom learned by specific individuals, but general rules for getting along in the culture, and any knowledgeable person can tell you the answers—after which you would be able to pass that information along to anyone else. Putting people first builds on the earlier theme that people are “built to relate.” Nature constructed human beings to turn to each other for food, shelter, support, information, and other needs. The fact that so many inner processes serve interpersonal functions enables people to rely on each other and treat each other as vital resources. The reliance on other people for information was shown in one of modern social psychology’s first experimental investigations, the research on conformity by Solomon Asch (1948, 1955, 1956; see also Bond & Smith, 1996, on cultural differences). Asch presented research participants with a line-judging task, in which they simply had to say which of three lines was the best match to a specific line that was presented. The task was easy enough that everyone could get all the answers correct simply by looking at the lines. But Asch introduced a novel twist to this task. He ran the study in groups, and sometimes almost everyone in the group was secretly working

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective


with him. Only one person in the group was a real participant. When Asch gave a prearranged signal, all the confederates (the group members who were working with him and only pretending to be real participants) would give the wrong answer. Thus, the participant suddenly had to decide whether to give the answer that his or her eyes said was correct, or instead to go along with the group and give the answer that everyone else had given. If the human brain were designed mainly to learn from one’s own direct experience, participants would still have given the right answer all the time. But they didn’t. In a significant number of cases, participants went along with the group, giving the answer that they could see was wrong but that conformed to what everyone else was doing (see Chapter 13 for more details on the Asch experiments). Thus, sometimes people rely on other people more than on their own direct experience. As we said earlier, if your brain is like a personal computer, then culture is like the Internet. Hooking into the system greatly increases the power of what a single computer, and by analogy a single brain, can do. By belonging to culture, you can learn an immense amount of information, whereas if you had to learn from your own direct experiences, you would only have a tiny fraction of that knowledge. Our tendency to put people first is vital in enabling us to take advantage of the knowledge and wisdom that accumulates in the cultural general store.

Quiz Yourself

Important Features of Human Social Life


The duplex mind contains what two systems? (a) Automatic; conscious (b) Cognitive; emotional (c) Freudian; behavioral (d) Short term; long term


More than other species, humans are designed to focus on and attend to (a) Air, food, and water (b) Each other (c) Plants that can be (d) Changes in the weather cultivated


In humans, the road to social acceptance is _____. (a) downhill (b) long (c) short (d) smooth


In a classic experiment with lines of different lengths, Solomon Asch found that _____. (a) one person’s judgment (b) large groups of people can be influenced by the tend to overestimate judgments of others the lengths of lines (c) large groups of people (d) perceptual judgments tend to underestimate are influenced by the lengths of lines socialization processes

Answers: 1=a, 2=b, 3=b, 4=a

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective


his chapter has emphasized that human behavior results from a mixture of nature and culture. Human beings are animals and, as such, they have many of the same wants, needs, and behavior patterns that other animals have. According to the theory of evolution, human beings evolved from other animals. The distinctively human traits are thus mostly a result of gradual refinements of traits that animals had. Some notable biological traits differentiate humans from other animals: We have exceptionally large and capable brains, especially in proportion to body size. We walk upright. We can talk. What makes us human is most apparent, however, in culture. The beginnings of culture can be found in other species, but these exist mostly in small, isolated patterns of behavior that make only a relatively minor difference in the animals’ life. In contrast, human life is deeply enmeshed in culture; indeed, it is hard to imagine what


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature


human life would be like without culture. Culture provides us with food and housing, with languages and things to talk about, with electricity and all the appliances that use it, with all our means of travel other than walking, with our forms of work and play, with science and religion, with medicine, with art and entertainment, and with all the ideas that give our lives meaning. Cultures are diverse, but they also have many common themes. Phenomena such as language, cooking, clothing, and money are found all over the world, but not in other species. Human life would be vastly different without language, cooking, clothing, and money, but it is only because of culture that we can have them. Culture also creates problems that are special to humans. There cannot be crime without laws, nor bankruptcy without money, nor nuclear waste without nuclear technology. Only humans go to war, deliberately commit suicide, or take part in genocide. Culture is not all good. Still, its benefits far outweigh its costs. Culture has enabled human beings to thrive and multiply. Indeed, nearly all of the animals most closely related to humans (apes and other primates) live near the equator in tropical climates, but human beings have spread all over the globe and live comfortably in mountains and valleys, in sunny and wintry places, in deserts and other seemingly difficult places. Cultural learning makes this dispersion possible. Perhaps most remarkably of all, culture has enabled human beings to increase their life span substantially. Advances in public health and medical care now allow many people to live 80 years, more than double what our ancestors could expect. No other animals have been able to develop knowledge that extends their life span. Many social psychologists have used the phrase “the social animal” to describe human beings, but many other animals are also social. What makes us human is the extent to which we are cultural animals. Culture is a better way of being social. For one thing, it allows humans to accumulate knowledge over time and across generations—something almost no other animals have been able to accomplish. Most social animals start over with each new generation, which must then solve the same problems of how to live comfortably. Each new generation of human beings, however, can learn from previous generations. (Otherwise, instead of reading this textbook, you’d be trying to master how to make fire and forage for food.) The very fact that we can think about what makes us human is an important part of what makes us human. Human beings can think with language and meaning in a way that no other animal can. This makes our social lives much more complicated than they would otherwise be, but it also creates the richness of human life and experience. That is, it makes our social psychology more complicated to study and learn, but it also makes it vastly more interesting!

Chapter Summary Explaining the Psyche ● ● ●

● ●

The power of socialization to change people is real, but limited. Both nature and culture are important in shaping behavior. Culture is an information-based system in which many people work together to help satisfy people’s biological and social needs. A culture includes shared beliefs, meanings, and values, as well as shared ways of doing things. Natural selection is a process whereby genetically based traits become more or less common in a population.

● ● ● ●

A trait that increases an organism’s survival rate or leads to better reproductive success is likely to become more common in a population. Humans, unlike most other creatures, base their actions on meaning and ideas. Nature has prepared humans to use ideas. Humans and some other animals are social. Humans are far more cultural than any other animal. Culture uses language and ideas to organize social interactions into a broad network.

Chapter Summary ●

Differences between social and cultural animals include the following: ● Social animals work together; cultural animals also use extensive division of labor. ● Social animals may learn things from one another; cultural animals deliberately share knowledge with the group. ● Social animals can communicate with one another; cultural animals deliberately share knowledge with the group. ● Social animals may help kin; cultural animals have a broader sense of community and often help strangers. ● Social animals mainly use aggression to resolve conflict; cultural animals have many alternatives, including moral principles, compromise, and the rule of law.

● ●

Facts of Life ●

● ● ●

● ● ●

Larger brains evolved to enable animals to function well in complex social structures. The human brain evolved to capitalize on culture. ● Some advantages of culture include the following: ● Language greatly improves the brain’s powers. ● Progress can build on the experiences of others. ● Division of labor increases a group’s productivity. ● A network of trade and exchange enables mutually beneficial interactions between strangers. A basic assumption of this book is that human beings have been shaped by evolution to participate in culture.

Humans differ from other animals in avoiding some foods because of ideas, such as religious and moral rules. Both nature and culture influence human sexuality. Bad is stronger than good. In order for life to be good, there must be many more good experiences than bad (in order to overcome the greater power of bad things). Many decisions and dilemmas in human social life involve tradeoffs. An important form of many tradeoffs is short-term versus long-term gain. A future orientation is more important to cultural beings than to other animals.

Important Features of Human Social Life ●

The Individual and Society


● ● ● ● ● ●

The human mind is a duplex mind, meaning that it has both a conscious and an automatic system. Living in a culture has many advantages, but it makes many demands. In general (though not always), nature says go and culture says stop. Nature makes us selfish; culture requires us to resist selfish impulses. Humans get most of what they need from other people. Culture operates as a “general store” of information. Asch’s study demonstrated that sometimes people rely more on information from other people than on their own senses.

> Key Terms Automatic system 54 Conscious system 54 Cultural animal 39 Culture 36 Division of labor 43 Duplex mind 54 Gender 34 Ideas 36

Mutation 34 Natural selection 32 Nature 32 Network of trade and exchange 44 Positive psychology 50 Praxis 35 Progress 43 Psyche 31

Reproduction 34 Sex 34 Social animals 39 Survival 32 Theory of evolution 32 Tradeoff 50

> Media Learning Resources Make sure you check out the complete set of learning resources and study tools below. If your instructor did not order these items with your new book, go to to purchase Thomson Higher Education print and digital products. Social Psychology and Human Nature Book Companion Website Visit your book companion website, where you will find flash cards, practice quizzes, internet links, and more to help you study. Just what you need to know NOW! Spend time on what you need to master rather than on information you already have learned. Take a pretest for this chapter, and ThomsonNOW will generate a personalized study plan based on your results.


Chapter 2: Culture and Nature The study plan will identify the topics you need to review and direct you to online resources to help you master those topics. You can then take a post-test to help you determine the concepts you have mastered and what you will still need to work on. Try it out! Go to to sign in with an access code or to purchase access to this product. Classic and Contemporary Videos Student CD-ROM To see videos on the topics and experiments discussed in this chapter and to learn more about the research that social psychologists are doing today, go to the Student CD-ROM. Social Psych Lab These unique online labs give you the opportunity to become a participant in actual experiments, including re-creations of classic and contemporary research studies.

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The Self

The Self’s Main Jobs

Self-Esteem, Self-Deception, and Positive Illusions

Who Makes the Self: The Individual or Society?



Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Basking and Blasting

Food for Thought: Eating Binges and Escaping the Self Where Self-Knowledge Comes From

Reality and Illusion

How People Fool Themselves Benefits of Self-Esteem

Looking Outside: The Looking-Glass Self

The Social Side of Sex: Self-Esteem and Saying No to Sex

Looking Inside: Introspection

Why Do We Care?

Looking at Others: Social Comparison

Is High Self-Esteem Always Good?

Self-Perception and the Overjustification Effect

Pursuing Self-Esteem Self-Presentation

The Fluctuating Image(s) of Self

Who’s Looking?

Why People Seek Self-Knowledge

Making an Impression

Tradeoffs: Self-Handicapping

Self-Presentation and Risky Behavior

Self and Information Processing Anything That Touches the Self . . . Can the Self-Concept Change?

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective Chapter Summary


© Eddie Gerald/Alamy

What Is the Self?


Chapter 3: The Self


The monumental work, Zrínyi’s Sortie, dated 1825, by Peter Krafft (1780–1856). The scene is the sortie of Count Miklós Zrínyi and his men, the heroic defenders of the castle of Szigetvár, against the besieging Turks in 1566, in which Zrínyi lost his life.

Zrinyi's Outburst, Krafft, Johann Peter (1780-1856)/ Magyar Nemzeti Galeria, Budapest, Hungary / The Bridgeman Art Library

n the late 1500s, near the height of the Ottoman Turkish empire, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent set out with a giant army to conquer as much of Europe as he could. On the way to Vienna, he took offense at some purported remark by a Hungarian nobleman, Count Miklós Zrínyi, and diverted his entire force to conquer the small castle where Zrínyi was stationed (Turnbull, 2003). The prospects for the defenders were never very good. They had only a couple of thousand men, as compared to almost 100,000 with the sultan. The castle was not impressive (Suleiman himself called it a “molehill” when he first laid eyes on it). Its best feature was that it was surrounded by a swamp and an artificial lake, which were hard for an attacking army to cross, but the summer had been dry and this natural advantage was weaker than usual. When the Turks destroyed the dam, the artificial lake drained, leaving the castle exposed. The Turks bombarded the walls with their huge cannon and drilled tunnels, which they exploded to make the walls collapse. After days of fighting, the defenders knew their cause was hopeless. Only 300 were left alive, their castle walls had huge holes in them, and most of their ammunition was gone. Instead of waiting for the Turks to storm in upon them, Zrínyi decided to die in a blaze of glory. As he prepared for the last moments of his life, he made some curious decisions. He discarded his armor and instead put on his wedding suit of silk and velvet. He hung a heavy gold chain around his neck and stuffed his pockets with gold coins. When asked why he was doing this, he replied that he wanted whoever killed him to know that he was an important person. Thus attired, he flung open the castle doors and led his remaining troops on a suicide charge right into the heart of the Turkish army. All were killed. (According to legend, the young wife of one of the soldiers remained in the castle until the Turks overran it, whereupon she threw a burning torch into the remaining ammunition supply, causing a terrible explosion that killed 3000 Turkish soldiers along with herself.) The striking thing about this story is the count’s concern with self-presentation, which we shall see is the task of making good impressions on other people. It is easily understandable and rational that people want to make good impressions on their bosses, or their dating partners, or their teammates. Zrínyi, however, was trying to make a good impression on someone he did not yet know and who presumably would have already killed him by the time he found the gold coins. There is no practical value to being well regarded after you are dead, especially by the person

What Is the Self?


who took your life. He’s not going to be your buddy nor do you any favors. But it mattered to the count anyway. As cultural beings, people have selves that are much more elaborate and complex than has been found anywhere else in the animal kingdom. The self is an important tool with which the human organism makes its way through human society and thereby manages to satisfy its needs. To be effective at this, the human self has taken shape in a way that it is marked by some deep, powerful drives. Among these drives is a strong concern with how one is perceived by others. This drive mostly serves the goals of survival and reproduction. However, many people care strongly about how others perceive them, even if those other people don’t help them survive or reproduce. In some cases, people care about others who will kill them. We may care most about those we depend on, but the fact is that people have a deeply rooted tendency to care, broadly, about how others in general regard them. It’s very hard not to care what other people think of you—at least some other people.

What Is the Self? The Self’s Main Jobs It may sound funny to ask “Why do we have selves?” Not having a self is not really an option! Everyone has a separate body, and selves begin with bodies, so there is no way for a human being to be completely without a self. Perhaps a more relevant question would concern the structure of the self: “Why are human selves put together the way they are?” One could also ask about their function: “What are selves for?” The structure and function questions are often related, because selves (like cars, tree leaves, forks, furnaces, and many other entities) are structured to serve a function. Moreover, as we saw in Chapter 2, many inner traits of human beings serve interperself-knowledge (self-concept) the sets of beliefs about oneself sonal functions. Much of the self is designed to enable you to relate to others, including claiming and sustaining a place in a cultural system that connects you to many other people. ● Figure 3.1 Another theme of this book is the conflict between selfThree parts of the self. ish impulses and social conscience. The self is right in the middle of this battle. On the one hand, selves sometimes naturally feel selfish (hence the very term selfish!), and in many situations they have strong impulses to do what is best for themselves. They are designed to know and do what is best Self-knowledge for them. On the other hand, selfishness must be kept under (or self-concept) control if society is to operate effectively, and selves often Information about self incorporate the morals and other values of the culture. Those Self-awareness Self-esteem morals mostly tell you to do what is best for the group Self-deception instead of acting selfishly. Hence selves must be able to understand these social morals and other values—plus be able to act on them, even when that requires overriding one’s natural, selfish impulses. Interpersonal self Agent self The self has three main parts (● Figure 3.1), which cor(or public self) (or executive function) respond to several main things that the self does. The first Self-presentation Decision making part consists of self-knowledge (sometimes called selfMember of groups Self-control concept). Human beings have self-awareness, and this awareTaking charge of situations Relationship partner Active responding Social roles ness enables them to develop elaborate sets of beliefs about Reputation themselves. If someone asks you to “tell me something about yourself,” you can probably furnish 15 or 20 specific answers without having to think very hard. Consider these experiences,


Chapter 3: The Self

interpersonal self (public self) the image of the self that is conveyed to others

agent self (executive function) the part of the self involved in control, including both control over other people and self-control

all of which involve self-knowledge and self-awareness: You stop to think about what you would like to be doing in five years. You receive a grade on an exam and consider whether you are good at this particular subject. You check your hair in the mirror or your weight on the scale. You read your horoscope or the results of some medical tests. On a first date, your partner asks you about yourself, and you try to give honest answers that show the kind of person you are. You feel ashamed over something you did last week, or last year, or you feel proud over something else you did. Such moments show the self reflecting on itself and on its store of information about itself. The interpersonal self, or public self, is a second part of the self that helps the person connect socially to other people. Most people have a certain image that they try to convey to others. This public self bears some resemblance to the self-concept, but the two are not the same. Often, people work hard to present a particular image to others even if it is not exactly the full, exact truth as they know it. Consider some of the things people do to impress others. You dress up for a social event. You show your friends that you are easygoing and fun-loving. You convince your boss that you are serious, reliable, and work-oriented. You spend all day cleaning your home to get it ready for guests. You hold back from arguing for your religious or political views because you think the other people present might not approve of them. You worry about what someone thinks of you. When describing yourself on that first date, you leave out certain unflattering details, such as that nasty foot odor problem, or how you like to burp the words to “Auld Lang Syne.” Furthermore, many emotions indicate concern over how one appears to others: You feel embarrassed because someone saw you do something stupid, or even just because your underwear was showing. You feel guilty if you forgot your romantic partner’s birthday. You are delighted when your boss compliments you on your good work. These episodes reveal that the self is often working in complex ways to gain social acceptance and maintain good interpersonal relationships. The third important part of the self, the agent self or executive function, is the part that gets things done. It enables the self to make choices and exert control, including both self-control and control over other people. Sometimes you decide not to eat something because it is unhealthy or fattening. Sometimes you make a promise and later work hard to keep it. Sometimes you decide what courses to take or what job to take. Perhaps you cast a vote in an election. Perhaps you sign a lease for an apartment. Perhaps you make yourself go out jogging even though the weather is bad and you feel lazy. Perhaps you place a bet on a sports event. All these actions reveal the self as not just a knower but also as a doer. In this chapter, we will focus on the first two aspects of the self: self-knowledge and the interpersonal self. The next chapter will emphasize the self in action.

Who Makes the Self: The Individual or Society? Probably the best account of the origins of selfhood is that the self comes into being at the interface between the inner biological processes of the human body and the sociocultural network (that is, the other people in the society, plus its “general store” of common beliefs and practices) to which the person belongs (e.g., James, 1892). The importance of society is hard to deny; in fact, if you grew up on a deserted island and never met other human beings, you might hardly have a “self” at all in the usual sense. There would be no point in having a name, for example, if you never interacted with other people, nor would you have a reputation, an ethnic identity, or even a set of personal values. (At most you would have preferences, but they would not seem like your personal values if you never met anyone else who might be different.) Then again, even without meeting other human beings, a person might still have a conception of self as a body separate from its environment. The difference between dropping a stone on your foot and dropping it on a tree root next to your foot is an important sign of self: Your foot is part of your self; the tree is not.

What Is the Self?


A True or Real Self? Many people like to think they have an inner “true” self. Most

self as impulse a person’s inner thoughts and feelings

self as institution the way a person acts in public, especially in official roles

independent self-construal a selfconcept that emphasizes what makes the self different and sets it apart from others

interdependent self-construal a self-concept that emphasizes what connects the self to other people and groups

©Fujifotos/The Image Works

George Doyle/Getty Images

Different cultures have different wedding traditions.

social scientists are skeptical of such notions. If the inner self is different from the way the person acts all the time, why is the inner one the “true” one? By what criterion could we say that someone’s “true” self is shy if the person doesn’t act shy most of the time? The idea of an inner “true” self different from behavior may have its origins in class prejudices (Sennett, 1974; Stone, 1977; Weintraub, 1978; see Baumeister, 1987). Back when social mobility began to increase, so that some aristocrats became poor while merchants became rich, the upper classes wanted to continue believing that they were inherently better than other people, even if the others had more money. The upper class could not point to obvious differences in behavior, because in point of fact many aristocrats were drunken, conceited, stupid, lazy, sexually immoral, and in other respects deplorable. Hence, the upper class settled on the view that the superiority of the blue bloods lay in their inner traits that could not be directly seen. Even if the inner “true” self is something of a fiction, people still believe in it, and these beliefs affect how they act. A classic article by sociologist Ralph Turner (1976) noted that different cultures (and different groups or historical eras within a culture) may differ in their ideas about the true self by placing emphasis on either of two main approaches, which Turner called impulse and institution. Self as impulse refers to the person’s inner thoughts and feelings. Self as institution refers to the way the person acts in public, especially in official roles. Many people recognize that they sometimes put on a public performance that differs from how they feel inside (Goffman, 1959). Turner’s point was that cultures disagree as to whether the public actions or the inner feelings count as the more real or true side of the self. Suppose, for example, that a soldier is terrified in battle and wants to run and hide, but he steels himself and performs an act of heroism that helps win the battle. Which was the “real” man: the terrified coward or the hero? Attitudes toward marriage may reflect different attitudes about the real self. In cultures that emphasize self as impulse, the actual wedding ceremony and its legal or religious significance are secondary. Marriage is seen as a psychological union of two persons, and what matters is how they feel about each other. If they lose their love for each other, or become attracted to someone else, they may feel justified in abandoning their spouse because to do so is to be true to themselves. A marriage is thus only as good as the current emotional state of the partners. In contrast, a culture that emphasizes self as institution downplays the inner feelings and instead places great significance on role performance. A couple may have a good marriage even if they cease to love each other, so long as they remain true to their vows and act the way a proper husband and wife are supposed to act. The actual wedding ceremony counts as much more in such societies than it does among the impulse-oriented societies, because it is at the wedding that the real self changes to become married in the eyes of society. Culture and Interdependence. Selves are somewhat different across different cultures. The most studied set of such cultural differences involves independence versus interdependence. This dimension of difference entails different attitudes toward the self and different motivations as to what the self mainly tries to accomplish, and it results in different emphases about what the self is. The idea that cultural styles of selfhood differ along the dimension of independence was introduced by Markus and Kitayama (1991; see also Triandis, 1989). Those two researchers, one American and one Japanese, proposed that Asians differ from North Americans and Europeans in how they think of themselves and how they seek to construct the self in relation to others. To avoid the overused term self-concept they introduced the term self-construal, which means a way of thinking about the self. An independent self-construal emphasizes what makes the self different and sets it apart from others. In contrast, an interdependent self-construal emphasizes what connects the self to other people and groups.


Chapter 3: The Self

To appreciate the difference, it is useful to try a simple exercise such as asking yourself “Who or what am I?” and listing a dozen or more different answers off the top of your head. When you have done this, go through the list again and see how many of your answers express something unique or special about you (such as having an unusual skill or hobby) and how many express connection to others (such as belonging to a particular family, attending a particular university, or coming from a particular place). The relative amounts of those two types of answers indicate where you stand on independence (your unique traits) and interdependence. It is not inherently better to be either independent or interdependent. Nor is everyone in one culture independent or interdependent. Still, Markus and Kitayama have contended (with support from subsequent work) that Asians lean toward being more interdependent, whereas Westerners tend to be more independent. Nor are these differences merely superficial ways of talking about the self. Instead, they represent deep-seated differences in what the person strives to become. The American ideal may be the self-made man or woman, who works alone to create or achieve something, possibly overcoming obstacles or other people’s resistance in the process, and who eventually becomes a true individual in the sense of a unique person with highly special traits. In contrast, the Asian ideal of selfhood may be more the consummate team player who makes valuable contributions to the group, who does not let personal egotism stand in the way of doing what is best for the group, and who remains loyal to the group and helps it overcome its external threats. Asians see the self as deeply enmeshed in a web of personal, family, social, and cultural relationships, outside of which there is meaninglessness and loneliness. Americans see the self as following its own path to autonomy, self-sufficiency, and unique individuality. A stunning story from the 1976 Olympics concerned a tight battle between the Japanese and the Soviet Russians for the men’s team gymnastics medals (e.g., Clark, 1986). It came down to a performance on the rings by Shun Fujimoto in the last event. His performance was nearly perfect except for a slight stutter-step by one leg when he landed. His score was high enough that Japan won the gold medal by a very slight margin over the Russians. What was remarkable about that story was that Shun had actually broken his leg in the previous event. In other words, the most intense pain he could imagine was waiting for him at the end of his performance, and he still managed to concentrate on what he was doing and perform perfectly. When Americans hear Fujimoto’s story, they probably understand it in terms of the independent self. They can imagine Shun wanting the glory of the gold medal, wanting to fulfill his dreams, and wanting to complete what he had worked for years to achieve. They think he would want to be admired for his heroic effort under intensely adverse circumstances. But Asians probably see the story differently, and with a more interdependent construal. It was not personal glory but obligation to the team that pushed him to take on that suffering. If he didn’t compete, his team would have lost the medal, and he didn’t want to let them down. In fact, Shun concealed his injury from his teammates, in case their performances would be affected by worrying about him or expecting that the team might lose. Social Roles. Let us return now to the question “What are selves for?” One answer, certainly, is that the self has to gain social acceptance. People are not designed to live by themselves. They need other people to accept them in order to have a job, to have friends and lovers, to have a family. The self is one tool people use to accomplish these goals. By learning how to act properly and how to conform to social rules and norms, people can improve their chances of social acceptance. In Chapter 2 we saw that human beings follow an especially long road to social acceptance. The self is constructed to help them on that road, which includes changing and adapting themselves so as to appeal to others.

What Is the Self?


© Bob Daemmrich/PhotoEdit

Another important purpose of the self is to play social roles. A long tradition in psychology and sociology considers social behavior as resembling a play or a movie, in which different people play different roles (e.g., Biddle & Thomas, 1966; Goffman, 1959; Mead, 1934). Indeed some theorists, such as Erving Goffman (1959), have taken this view to an extreme and analyzed most human behavior and selfhood in terms of actors playing roles. A culture is a large system with many different roles, and everyone has to find a place in it (or several places). You cannot be a senator, or a nurse, or a parent, or a girlfriend, or a police officer unless you can reliably act in appropriate ways. Many roles, such as spouse or engineer, can only be adopted after you take a series of steps (such as having a wedding, or getting a college degree with a certain major); the self has to execute these steps just to get into the role. Then after you have the role, you must perform the duties that define it. To succeed in traveling the long road to social acceptance, the person must have a self capable of all those jobs. To be sure, humans are not the only creatures to have roles. What is special about the human self is that it is flexible enough to take on new roles and change them. A single human being, for example, might over the course of a lifetime work at mowing lawns, writing for the school newspaper, managing the swim team, lifeguarding at several different pools, busing tables in the college dining hall, working with computers, managing others who work with computers, and so forth. Also, a person may perform similar jobs with several different organizations, such as a professor who moves from one university to another but teaches the same courses each time. In contrast, a worker ant almost always does the same job for its entire life and within the same colony of ants; it does not need a self that can adopt and shed different roles. Where do these roles come from? Often they are part of the social system. If you live in a small peasant farming village, as most people in the history of the world have done, then many roles are not available to you. The limited opportunities in that village’s social system mean that you could not be a basketball coach, for example, or a software consultant, or a movie star, because the only other people you ever meet are peasant farmers. Most roles are ways of relating to other people within a cultural system. If you lived alone in the forest, it would be silly to describe yourself as a police officer, a bartender, a schoolteacher, or vice president of telemarketing. A person’s social identity thus shows the interplay of the individual organism and the larger cultural system: Society creates and defines the roles, and individual people seek them out, adopt them, and sometimes impose their own style on them. Without society, the self would not exist in full. But let’s start at the beginning. The self has its roots in the human capacity to turn attention back toward its source. Without self-awareness, selfhood and selfknowledge would be impossible. The next section will cover what social psychologists have learned about self-awareness.

The woman in this picture has at least two roles: (a) she is a soldier, and (b) she is a mother. social roles the different roles a person plays, as in a play or a movie

Self-Awareness self-awareness attention directed at the self

private self-awareness looking inward on the private aspects of the self, including emotions, thoughts, desires, and traits

Self-awareness consists of attention directed at the self. Early in the 1970s, two social psychologists, Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund (1972), began studying the difference between being and not being self-aware. They developed several clever procedures to increase self-awareness, such as having people work while seated in front of a mirror, or telling people that they were being videotaped. Researchers quickly found it necessary to distinguish at least two main kinds of selfawareness—public and private (e.g., Fenigstein, Scheier, & Buss, 1975; also Carver & Scheier, 1981). Private self-awareness refers to attending to your inner states, including


Chapter 3: The Self

public self-awareness looking outward on the public aspects of the self that others can see and evaluate

● Figure 3.2

Self-awareness theory, proposed by Duval and Wicklund (1972), suggests that some situations, such as looking in a mirror, lead to self-awareness. Self-aware people feel bad because they notice any discrepancies between who they are and standards. They can either “change” by matching the behavior to the standard, or “escape” by trying to escape the self-aware state.

emotions, thoughts, desires, and traits. It is a matter of looking inward. In contrast, public self-awareness means attending to how you are perceived by others, including what others might think of you. Public self-awareness looks outward to understand the self. Without public self-awareness, Count Zrínyi would not have dressed as he did on the last day of his life: He wore his wedding suit and gold because he was imagining how he would look to the enemy soldiers outside. Thus, instead of attending to his inner states directly, he thought about himself as seen through other people’s eyes. One thing researchers have found is that self-awareness usually involves evaluating the self, rather than just merely being aware of it (● Figure 3.2). A person looks in the mirror and compares him- or herself against various standards. It is not just “Oh, there I am in the mirror. Is that what I look like? It doesn’t matter.” Rather, it’s “Oh, my hair is a mess. This shirt looks good on me. I should lose a little weight.” The essence of self-awareness is comparing oneself against these standards (goodlooking hair, good clothing, fashionably slim, respectively) and thereby coming up with good or bad evaluations about the self.

“Change!” (match behavior to standard) Mirror, audience, photo, hear name


Unpleasant self-discrepancies “Escape!” (withdraw from self-awareness)

I see room for improvement.

Standards. Standards are ideas (concepts) of how things might possibly be. Standards include ideals, norms, expectations, moral principles, laws, the way things were in the past, and what other people have done. Standards are an important example of one theme of this book—namely, the power of ideas to cause and shape behavior. The self is not good or bad in a vacuum, but only when compared to certain standards, which is to say some criteria for what is good or bad. Nearly all children start talking about standards (good, bad, dirty, nice) when they are around 2 years old, which is also the age at which their self-awareness blossoms (Kagan, 1981) and children begin to develop a concept of themselves as separate from their parents. Self-awareness is often unpleasant, because people often compare themselves to high standards such as moral ideals for good behavior or fashion model good looks. There is some evidence, for example, that when girls and young women watch television shows featuring especially beautiful actresses and models, they feel less positive Jutta Klee/Getty Images

standards ideas (concepts) of how things might possibly be

What Is the Self?


about themselves and become more likely to develop eating disorders (Becker et al., 2002; Botta, 2000; Harrison, 2000, 2001, 2003; Lavine et al., 1999; Tiggemann & Pickering, 1996). But people feel good when they compare themselves to the “average person” or to specific people who are not doing as well, because one can usually surpass low standards (at least in one’s own mind!). When people are aware that they fall short of standards, the bad feeling leads to either of two reactions: change or escape! One reaction is to try to remedy the problem, such as by improving oneself. This may be as simple as combing one’s hair, or as complex as deciding to change basic aspects of one’s life. Sometimes changing the standard is easier than changing the self. The other response is to try to avoid or reduce self-awareness, so as to escape from feeling bad. Recent work suggests that a person’s reactions to standards depends on how promising versus hopeless the prospect of meeting the standard seems (Silvia & Duval, 2001). When people think they can reach their goals or other standards in a reasonable time, self-awareness makes them try harder to do so. But if the goal looks unattainable or the person does not feel he or she is making satisfactory progress, then avoiding self-awareness looms as the more appealing solution.

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Alcohol reduces self-awareness, thereby undermining inhibitions.

Self-Awareness and Behavior. Self-awareness can make people behave better. Being self-aware makes you compare yourself to moral standards or other ideals. For example, in one study students took a test and had an opportunity to cheat on it. Students who took the test while sitting in front of a mirror were less likely to cheat than students who took the test without a mirror (Diener & Wallbom, 1976). Another study showed that people are less likely to eat fatty food when they are sitting in front of a mirror than when there is no mirror (Sentyrz & Bushman, 1998). Thus, again, selfawareness made people more attuned to societal standards and hence made them act in a more socially desirable manner. Other studies have shown that increasing selfawareness can make people behave less aggressively, conform more to their sexual morals, and stay on their diets (Heatherton et al., 1993; Scheier et al., 1974; Smith, Gerrard, & Gibbons, 1997). Increased self-awareness makes people act more consistently with their attitudes about many different issues (Pryor et al., 1976); insofar as consistency is a good thing, those findings provide more evidence that self-awareness improves behavior. The fact that self-awareness enables people to behave better according to cultural standards reflects the theme that inner processes serve interpersonal functions. Humans could not get along with each other so well if they did not have self-awareness. Selfawareness enables people to reflect on themselves and change themselves so as to become more attractive and socially desirable—precisely what is needed to improve their ability to get along. Does self-awareness always make people behave better? Of course not. For example, terrorists might become more fanatical and more destructive as a result of being self-aware. But these exceptions are just that—exceptions. The general effect of high self-awareness is to make people more aware of positive, desirable standards and make them try harder to behave in a positive manner. One class of largely destructive behaviors, however, does stem from high self-awareness. These behaviors arise when people are aware of themselves in some bad, upsetting aspect, and they cannot solve the problem. In those cases, they may attempt to escape from self-awareness


Chapter 3: The Self

by resorting to destructive or socially undesirable methods. The next section will look at this issue.

self-regulation the process people use to control and change their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors public self-consciousness thinking about how others perceive you

Escaping Self-Awareness. People seek to escape from self-awareness when it feels bad. In one study, people who performed actions contrary to their values and attitudes were told to take a seat in a waiting room afterward. Half the seats faced mirrors (which make a person self-conscious), whereas others faced away from the mirrors. The people who had acted against their values generally chose to face away from the mirror (Greenberg & Musham, 1981). They wanted to avoid self-awareness in order not to be reminded that they had done something wrong. Drinking alcohol is one of the most common methods of reducing self-awareness. Alcohol narrows attention, and this usually means directing it away from the self (although if you get drunk and just think about your problems, you may feel worse). Studies have confirmed that people who are drunk seem less aware of themselves—as shown, for example, in how much they talk about themselves (Hull, 1981; Hull et al., 1983). Outside the lab, people drink when things have gone badly, because the alcohol helps them stop ruminating about “What is wrong with me?” Perhaps paradoxically, people also turn to alcohol when they feel good and want to celebrate. That’s because people want to let down their inhibitions in order to have a good time, and self-awareness is central to most inhibitions (because self-awareness makes you compare yourself against morals and other standards or proper behavior). People use other methods to escape self-awareness. Perhaps the most extreme and destructive of these is suicide. Attempts at suicide, even when the attempt is unsuccessful, are often intended as ways to escape from a sense of self as being a terrible person, or a person who is responsible for some terrible event (Baumeister, 1990). Not all escapes from self-awareness are destructive, but several of them are, possibly because people who are desperate to stop thinking bad thoughts about themselves don’t worry about the harm their methods might cause. Food for Thought discusses how escaping self-awareness can contribute to eating binges. One explanation for human self-awareness is that it is vital for selfregulation—the process by which the self controls and changes itself (Carver & Scheier, 1981). People deliberately try to alter their responses, such as trying to get out of a bad mood, or to keep their attention and thinking focused on some problem rather than letting their mind wander, or to resist temptation. It is no accident that self-awareness usually involves comparing oneself to meaningful standards, because that may be precisely what self-awareness is for. People can reflect on themselves, decide that they are not acting properly, and try to change. Understood in this way, self-awareness is essentially part of the mechanism by which people can bring themselves into line with what other people, including their culture, want and expect. At a simple level, recognizing that your hair is a mess or your socks don’t match may be an essential first step toward fixing the problem. (Chapter 4 will have more to say about self-regulation.) Another explanation for human self-awareness is that we can adopt the perspective of other people and imagine how they see us. This reflects the “people first” theme that we introduced in Chapter 2: People are oriented toward other people. To get along, we look to others, and in particular we want to be accepted in social groups. Knowing how we appear to others is a great help toward making ourselves more appealing and acceptable to others. Self-awareness is helpful on the long road to social acceptance. It also indicates, again, that inner processes (in this case, self-awareness) serve interpersonal functions (to help people get along better with others). At a more complex level, self-awareness can be an exercise in “What am I doing with my life?” Are you making progress toward your goals, such as getting an education, getting ready for a good job, finding a suitable partner? People can feel good even though they have not reached their goals, as long as they are making progress toward them (Carver & Scheier, 1990). Self-awareness thus can help people manage their behavior over long periods of time so they can reach their goals.

What Is the Self?

Food for Thought Eating Binges and Escaping the Self Binge eating is a widespread problem, especially among adolescent and young adult females. Ironically, most of these young women are on a diet and trying to lose weight at the time, and the occasional eating binge thwarts their efforts to restrain their food consumption. Why would a woman who is on a carefully planned, calorie-counting diet suddenly one day eat most of the food in her refrigerator and cupboards? One answer points to the importance of self-awareness. In this view, the woman may be beset with troubled thoughts and feelings that she is inadequate, unattractive, or otherwise unworthy. The process of eating enables her to escape from those thoughts and feelings. She forgets herself as she becomes absorbed in the activities of chewing, eating, and swallowing food. Many chronic dieters are preoccupied with how others perceive them. They may think that other people are whispering about how fat they are, even if they are within the normal weight range. They also tend to be people with high standards and high expectations for themselves (including being ambitious students at good universities). If something goes wrong for them—whether an academic setback, such as a bad test grade, or a personal problem, such as a romantic rejection—this tendency to focus on the self can make them miserable. They find themselves thinking about all their own possible faults and shortcomings that could have caused the problem. At such times, eating appeals because it provides a distraction from thoughts about the self. The troubling thoughts occur at a highly meaningful level: What’s wrong with me? Will I ever be a success in my career?

Quiz Yourself

Will people want to love me? In contrast, eating focuses the mind at a low level of meaning: take a bite, notice the taste, chew, swallow. Low levels of meaning involve little or no emotion, just sensation. The worries and anxieties about whether you are good enough are replaced by a kind of emotional calm. Eating can thus help turn off bad emotions. Although dieters are high in public self-consciousness, defined as thinking about how others perceive them, they are often low in private self-awareness of their inner states (e.g., Blanchard & Frost, 1983; Heatherton, Polivy, & Herman, 1989). This may be because dieting involves learning to ignore one’s inner feelings of hunger. Ignoring hunger may be helpful to dieting, but a common side effect is that the person also loses awareness of inner signals of satiety (that is, of being “full” and having eaten enough). This can contribute to an eating binge, because the person keeps on eating even when the stomach is already full. The body sends out its usual “stop eating!” signal, but the mind has learned to ignore it along with other inner signals. Normally, many dieters count every bite and calorie. This pattern of so-called monitoring helps keep track of food intake, so the dieter can carefully control how much she (or he) eats. This requires a watchful attitude toward the self. During an eating binge, however, self-awareness is often lost, and the person may lose track of how much she is eating. When you stop keeping track, it is hard to regulate. Even people who do not have eating disorders or dieting ambitions find that they eat more when they stop keeping track, such as when their attention is absorbed in a television show or party.

What Is the Self?


Self-knowledge is also known as _____. (a) self-awareness (b) self-concept (c) self-regulation (d) self-presentation


Alcohol has been shown to _____ self-awareness. (a) decrease (b) increase (c) not affect (d) reverse


According to self-awareness theory, a self-aware state is _____. (a) pleasant (b) unpleasant (c) pleasant initially, then (d) neutral unpleasant later


The presence of a mirror has been shown to _____ self-awareness. (a) decrease (b) increase (c) not affect (d) reverse


Answers: 1=b, 2=b, 3=a, 4=b


Chapter 3: The Self

Where Self-Knowledge Comes From “Tell me something about yourself.” Such openings are common, and people will generally oblige by disclosing a fair amount of information. But where do they get it? How do people amass so much knowledge about themselves? Do people know themselves accurately, or are they mistaken (or do they simply lie a lot)? Humans clearly have a self-concept, or at least a stock of self-knowledge, some of which is true and some of which is distorted. Social psychologists have labored for decades to develop and test theories about how people store this information about themselves. The next sections will examine various theories about the sources of selfknowledge. When reading them, please keep a couple things in mind: People are not passive receptacles; they actively process information that comes in. Your friend, or your mother, or society may tell you that you are not artistically talented, but you may reject that message. Then again, if all of them tell you that all the time, you may be more inclined to believe it (and they may be right!). Another thing to keep in mind is that people do not get all their self-knowledge from the same source or process. Several of these theories may be simultaneously correct, or at least partly correct.

Looking Outside: The Looking-Glass Self

looking-glass self the idea that people learn about themselves by imagining how they appear to others

generalized other the idea that other people tell you who and what you are

One influential theory is that people learn about themselves from others. Every day people interact with others, and through these interactions they learn how others perceive them. “Wow, you are really good at sports!” “You’re beautiful!” “Don’t quit your day job!” These and many similar comments help give people information about themselves. It may seem surprising that the theme of putting people first extends even to finding out about yourself, but in fact people do learn a great deal about themselves from social interactions, from what other people tell them, and from comparing themselves to other people. These interactions also help cultivate public self-awareness, which (as noted above) is our ability to imagine how others perceive us. The term looking-glass self was coined by Charles Horton Cooley (1902) to refer to the idea that people learn about themselves from other people. Cooley proposed three components to the looking-glass self: (a) You imagine how you appear to others. (b) You imagine how others will judge you. (c) You develop an emotional response (such as pride or mortification) as a result of imagining how others will judge you. It is as if other people hold up a mirror (a looking glass) in which you can see yourself. If you lived on a deserted island and never met anyone else, you would not know yourself nearly as well as you do growing up amid people. The great American social philosopher George Herbert Mead (1934) elaborated on this notion to suggest that most self-knowledge comes from feedback received from other people, whether particular individuals or what he called the generalized other (a combination of other people’s views). Essentially, other people tell us who and what we are. The notion of the looking-glass self has been tested extensively. It is partly correct and partly incorrect. Certainly there is ample evidence that people do respond to the feedback they get from others. Then again, if the looking-glass self really were the main source of self-knowledge, then you would think there would be a pretty good match between how everybody thinks about someone and how the person thinks about him- or herself. But there isn’t. Most research suggests that a person’s selfconcept is often quite different from what friends, family, and co-workers think of him or her (Shrauger & Schoeneman, 1979). Why doesn’t the looking-glass self work better? If we were to ask you to describe yourself, and then asked all your friends and acquaintances to describe you, why would there be so many differences? Social psychologists have found that there usually is a good match between a person’s self-concept and how that person thinks he or she is regarded by others. The gap is between what someone’s friends really think

Digital Vision/Getty Images

Where Self-Knowledge Comes From

I’m sure everyone likes my hat.


of him and what he thinks they think. For example, someone may think of herself as easy to get along with. If so, she probably thinks that everybody sees her as easy to get along with, but in reality other people may think she is a difficult, high-maintenance sort of person. A person may be mistaken about how other people regard him or her for two reasons. The first is that people do not always tell the truth. If you ask someone “Am I a pretty nice person, basically easy to get along with?” that person might just say “Sure!” without really meaning it. People are reluctant to communicate bad news (Tesser & Rosen, 1975), to criticize someone, to complain, and in other ways to tell people what is wrong with them. (This generalization is subject to cultural differences. In Israel, for example, people supposedly are much more willing to communicate objections and criticisms.) It is very hard to find out if you have bad breath, for example, because almost no one will want to tell you. The second reason is that people are not always receptive to feedback from others. People may try to tell you that you are hard to get along with, but you may not accept what they say. (You might get angry, or argue that the person is wrong, or change the subject.) As the section on self-deception will show, people are very selective in how they process incoming information about themselves. This is perhaps the biggest fallacy in the notion of the looking-glass self: It seems to depict the person as a passive recipient of information, as if people simply believed whatever other people told them about themselves. In reality, people pick and choose, and sometimes they completely reject what others tell them. It is no wonder that many people’s self-concepts do not match what others think of them. With regard to your unappealing traits, there is a sort of conspiracy of silence: Others don’t want to tell you, and you don’t want to hear it.

Looking Inside: Introspection

Young children believe that parents know them better than they know themselves.

Dennis the Menace used by permission of Hank Ketcham Enterprises and © North America Syndicate.

introspection the process by which a person examines the contents of his or her mind and mental states

One refreshingly simple explanation of the roots of self-knowledge is that people simply have direct knowledge of what they are like. They don’t need to rely on what other people tell them; they just look inward, and they know the answer. Introspection refers to the process by which a person examines the contents of his or her mind and mental states. People seemingly can always tell what they are thinking and feeling, probably better than anyone else. The concept of “privileged access” refers to the power of introspection; that is, I have “privileged access” to my own feelings, which I can know directly but you (or anyone else) can only infer. You only know what I am feeling if I tell you, or if you are lucky enough or sharp enough to infer my feelings from observing me. Privileged access means that it is easier for me than for anyone else to know what I am feeling. There is certainly something right in this. People do know their own thoughts and feelings in ways that others cannot match. Introspection is one source of self-knowledge. It has limits, though. One is developmental. Many children think that their knowledge of their own inner states is no match for parental knowledge. In one study, children were asked, “Who knows best what kind of person you really are, deep down inside?” Privileged access would mean that everyone should say “I know myself best.” But up until about the age of 11, children were more likely to say that their parents knew best (Rosenberg, 1979). The children thought that if they and their parents disagreed about some trait in the child, the parent would more likely be correct. This is remarkable: Children believe that their parents know them better than the children know themselves. A more systematic and profound attack on introspection began with an influential article by Richard Nisbett and Timothy Wilson in 1977. They proposed that people do not really have much in the way of privileged access, and hence when they look inside they simply make mistakes, guess, or give what they assume are plausible or socially desirable answers. In a series of studies, Nisbett and Wilson and their colleagues showed that people often do not realize


Chapter 3: The Self

how their minds work. For example, in one study people had to choose which stockings to buy, and by scrambling the order the researchers were able to show that most shoppers just chose whichever one they saw last. But they didn’t realize what they were doing. Instead of saying “I just chose the last one,” they said they chose based on color or softness (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977). Another failure of introspection was shown in a study of how young men are affected by sexy car ads (Smith & Engel, 1968). The different ads emphasized each car’s best features: One got good gas mileage, another had a good safety record, and so forth. The ads were also varied so that one of them also featured a pretty young woman wearing only a dark sweater and black lace panties and holding a large spear. In different sessions, the attractive model was paired with different cars. The results showed that the men tended to choose whichever car was paired with the attractive woman. But when asked to explain their choice of car, the men never invoked the scantily clad, spear-carrying young woman; instead, they explained their choice on the basis of whatever was good about that car (e.g., “A good safety record is really important to me.”) Nisbett and Wilson’s (1977) claim that people do not know their own minds met fierce resistance in some quarters. We noted in Chapter 1 that science tends to be self-correcting, so that the march of progress can gradually get closer and closer to the truth as new theories are tested and improved. In crucial respects, Nisbett and Wilson were right: People often do not know what goes on inside their minds. In other respects, however, they may have overstated the case. Sometimes people do know what they are thinking and feeling. The difference lies partly in the duplex mind. As you may recall from Chapter 2, the duplex mind has two parts, one of which engages in automatic, nonconscious processing of information, while the other involves processes of which we are consciously aware. Introspection is a conscious process. The automatic system does a great deal of work that the conscious part of the mind often does not know about or understand. Is introspection valid? People can correctly know what they think and feel. On the other hand, they may not know why they are thinking or feeling something. Terry may be correct when he tells you that he did not like a novel that he read. You can believe his answer (assuming he is not deliberately lying) when he tells you whether he liked it or not. But his explanation of why he liked it or disliked it is less reliable. He may have liked it for many reasons of which he is not aware.

Looking at Others: Social Comparison

social comparison examining the difference between oneself and another person

Sometimes self-knowledge requires looking at other people. It may seem surprising that you learn about yourself by looking to others, but other people are vital to selfknowledge. In social comparison, you learn not the facts about yourself, but what value they have—in the context of what other people are like. Suppose, for example, that you score 126 on a test, or you discover that you can swim a mile in half an hour. Is that good or bad? By itself, neither. It is only good or bad in comparison to what others do. The theory of social comparison (Festinger, 1954) laid out the power and the processes in which people learn about themselves by comparing themselves to others. Many facts about the self (such as swimming a mile in half an hour) don’t carry much weight by themselves and only become meaningful in comparison to others. Social comparison is another instance (like the looking-glass self described earlier) of “putting people first”—we get the information we need, even about ourselves, by focusing on other people. But to whom do you compare yourself? The most useful comparisons involve people in your same general category, whatever that might be. Comparing your swimming times to that of a man who won an Olympic gold medal isn’t going to be very enlightening, especially if you are a female, middle-aged, overweight swimmer who never learned how to do flip turns.

Where Self-Knowledge Comes From

upward social comparison comparing yourself to people better than you

downward social comparison comparing yourself to people worse off than you


Sometimes people deliberately compare themselves to others who are better or worse. Upward social comparisons, involving people better than you, can inspire you to want to do better in order to reach their level. (However, they can also be discouraging.) Downward social comparisons, against people worse off than yourself, can make you feel good. Sometimes people compare themselves to others who are close by, such as their friends and family members. Such comparisons can be hard on the relationship, especially for the one who doesn’t come out looking good. It’s fine for your sister or your husband to be a swimming champ if you aren’t a competitive swimmer yourself; in fact, the other’s success may reflect favorably on you. But if you are a serious swimmer and your partner consistently does better than you, you may be upset by this, and that can drive you to put some distance between the two of you (Tesser, 1988).

Self-Perception and the Overjustification Effect

self-perception theory the theory that people observe their own behavior to infer what they are thinking and how they are feeling

intrinsic motivation wanting to perform an activity for its own sake

extrinsic motivation performing an activity because of something that results from it

overjustification effect the tendency for intrinsic motivation to diminish for activities that have become associated with rewards

Yet another theory about where self-knowledge comes from is that people learn about themselves in the same way they learn about others—by observing behavior and drawing conclusions. In a sense, this is the opposite of introspection theory, because it dismisses the whole “privileged access” issue. There is no special route to self-knowledge. You see what you do, and you draw conclusions about what you are like. This seemed like a radical theory to many social psychologists when it was proposed by social psychologist Daryl Bem in 1965. However, Bem’s self-perception theory does not really claim that people have no privileged access to knowing their inner feelings and states. In fact, Bem proposed that when people did have such information, they might not rely on self-perception processes. But sometimes looking inside is not adequate, and in those cases people are swayed by self-perception. For example, Lucy might say that she believes in God and thinks people ought to go to church, but somehow she never manages to get herself there. At some point she may notice this fact about herself and conclude that her religious convictions are perhaps somewhat weaker than she had always thought. If religion really mattered to her, she probably would manage to get to church once in a while. (Alternatively, she might decide that God doesn’t really care whether she attends church or not.) Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. One of the most important and dramatic instances of self-perception involves motivation. Early on, social psychologists learned to distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Deci, 1971). Intrinsic motivation refers to wanting to perform an activity for its own sake. The activity is an end in itself. Someone might be intrinsically motivated to paint, for example, because he enjoys the process of dabbing colors onto a canvas and takes satisfaction in creating a beautiful or striking picture. Extrinsic motivation, in contrast, refers to performing an activity because of something that results from it. The activity is a means to some other end—it is pursued for what it accomplishes or leads to, rather than for the activity itself. A person who is extrinsically motivated to paint might paint in order to make money. This painter might be very motivated and might work very hard, even if she did not really like painting much at all. One test would be whether the person would choose to spend free time doing the activity, in the absence of external rewards or incentives. An intrinsically motivated painter might well spend a free Sunday afternoon painting, but an extrinsically motivated painter would not (unless there was money or some other incentive). Overjustification Effect. Self-perception theory led to the prediction that extrinsic motivations would gradually win out over intrinsic ones when both were relevant. This is called the overjustification effect—the tendency for intrinsic motivation to diminish for activities that have become associated with rewards. Essentially,


Chapter 3: The Self

overjustification means that rewards transform play into work. Mark Twain understood this concept long before psychologists did. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain wrote: There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service that would turn it into work then they would resign.

It’s a job, it’s not supposed to be fun.

AP Photo/Pat Sullivan

Take the intrinsically motivated painter, and suppose that someone then began to pay him to paint. The painter would gradually see himself painting away and getting paid for it. And the logical inference would be that he is painting for the money—which implies that he doesn’t really love to paint for its own sake. Accordingly, over time, being paid to paint would make the painter less and less intrinsically motivated to paint. Extrinsic rewards can create confusion in people who are engaging in an activity they love to do. People begin to wonder why they are doing the activity, for enjoyment or for pay. Reggie Jackson, a baseball player whose starting salary at the time was $975,000 per year, was once asked why he played baseball. He said, “A lot of it is the money, but I’d be playing if I was making [only] $150,000.” Bill Russell, the former basketball star, said: “I remember that the game lost some of its magical qualities for me once I thought seriously about playing for a living.” The overjustification effect has been confirmed in many studies (e.g., Lepper & Greene, 1978). If people get extrinsic rewards for doing something they intrinsically like to do, eventually the intrinsic motivation grows weaker and the person orients the activity more and more to its extrinsic rewards. In the first demonstrations of this pattern, students performed puzzles and were either paid or not paid for solving them (Deci, 1971). The researchers then left each student alone for a brief period and secretly observed whether the student continued to work on the puzzles (a sign of intrinsic motivation, because it indicated that the person enjoyed the puzzles enough to work on them when there was no reward). Students who had been paid showed a sharp drop in their interest in doing the puzzles once the pay stopped (● see Figure 3.3). In contrast, students who had done the same number of puzzles but had never been paid continued to find them interesting. Thus, being paid made people think, “I only do these for money,” and they no longer liked to do them for their own sake. Extrinsic motivation (money) had replaced intrinsic motivation (fun). Play had become work. A crucial and revealing factor is whether the rewards are expected during the activity, as opposed to coming as a surprise afterward. You would only infer that

Where Self-Knowledge Comes From

Average number of seconds participants in paid and unpaid groups spent working on a puzzle at baseline (before a reward was introduced to the paid group), when the reward was introduced, and after the reward was removed (Deci, 1971, p. 109).

somebody is painting for the sake of the money if the perPaid group son knew in advance that Unpaid group painting would bring money. 300 If the person painted and then received some money afterward, unexpectedly, you would 200 not conclude that money was the driving force. The same logic applies to the self. When 100 people perform an activity and anticipate they will be paid for it, their intrinsic interest in the task diminishes. In contrast, 0 Baseline Reward Reward an unexpected reward does introduced removed not alter their intrinsic motivation (Lepper et al., 1973). You might think that people would know directly whether they desire and enjoy some activity, and that extrinsic rewards would make little difference. (Recall the earlier discussion of introspection and “privileged access.”) Certainly people do know to some extent what they want and what they like. But self-perception processes still have some influence. Thus, parents who want education to be intrinsically motivating to their children should think twice about paying them for good grades. The money may cause confusion about why they are trying to get good grades in the first place—is it because learning is fun or is it because they receive money for good grades? Actually, there is some evidence that when rewards convey a clear message that “you’re great!” they do not undermine intrinsic motivation (Rosenfeld, Folger, & Adelman, 1980), possibly because people like to be good at things. 400

Seconds spent working on puzzle

● Figure 3.3


The Fluctuating Image(s) of Self

rently active in the person’s thoughts

Paying children to get good grades may undermine their intrinsic motivation for studying.

Reprinted by permission of King Features Syndicate.

phenomenal self (working selfconcept) the image of self that is cur-

So far we have spoken about self-knowledge as the mass of information the person has and carries with him or her all the time. But social psychologists have discovered a smaller, in some ways more important, self-concept that changes much more easily and readily. Called the phenomenal self or the working self-concept (Jones & Gerard, 1967; Markus & Kunda, 1986), it is the image of self that is currently active in the person’s thoughts. Put another way, when you are self-aware, you are usually only aware of a small part of all the information you have about yourself. Each situation summons up only a few relevant aspects of the self, and these constitute the phenomenal self. The difference is comparable to that between all the information you

Chapter 3: The Self

© BananaStock/Alamy

© David Young-Wolff/PhotoEdit


Which ones are most aware of their own race?

have in your computer and what is currently displayed on the screen. The phenomenal self is what you see on the screen right now: It is only a small part of the total, but it is the part that you can use actively. Different situations can call up different parts of selfknowledge into the phenomenal self. For one thing, whatever aspects of you stand out as unusual often become prominent in the phenomenal self. Thus, if you are the only woman in a roomful of men, you are probably quite aware of being a woman, whereas if you are among other women, your femaleness does not stand out so much and you may be less aware of it. Note that you are still a woman in either case, and of course you know it. The difference is merely what stands out in your mind (McGuire et al., 1978, 1979). This sense of yourself as standing out is especially important when you are the only member of some category, such as a racial or ethnic group. If you are, say, the only African American on a committee, you may be acutely aware that other people think of you as African American and you may identify more strongly than you would otherwise with being an African American. (Note that this is ironic, in a way. Some people might guess that you would identify yourself more as an African American if you were in a group that was entirely composed of African Americans.) Being the lone member of some category heightens selfawareness and can impair performance (Lord & Saenz, 1985). It can even make you feel that you are responsible for your group’s reputation, which greatly increases the pressure. After all, if you are the lone African American in the group and you perform badly, your performance may reflect on African Americans in general (Croizet, Désert, Dutrévis, & Leyens, 2001; Gonzales, Blanton, & Williams, 2002; Hyde & Kling, 2001; Steele, 1997, 1999; Steele & Aronson, 1995).

Why People Seek Self-Knowledge In the last section we considered some of the roots of self-knowledge. One additional root of self-knowledge is that people want to know themselves, and so in many circumstances they actively seek out information about the self. They take personality tests (even magazine self-tests that have little or no scientific validity), consult horoscopes, spend years and thousands of dollars on psychoanalysis or other therapies that promises to improve self-knowledge, learn to meditate, and above all pay close attention to what others say about them. One former mayor of New York, Ed Koch, made a standard joke out of the interest in self-knowledge by acknowledging that most people had an opinion about his performance as mayor. Whenever he met someone, instead of asking “How’re you doing?” as is customary, he would ask “How’m I doing?” Beginnings of Self-Knowledge. Human beings have a deep thirst for self-knowledge.

Some people are more eager than others to learn about themselves, but hardly anyone is indifferent to self-knowledge. The evolutionary origins of the desire for selfknowledge are hard to establish, though one can easily propose many potential benefits that might come from knowing yourself. For example, creatures might have a better idea of which potential mates to pursue if they know accurately how attractive they are (Kirkpatrick & Ellis, 2001). If you vastly overestimate your sex appeal, you might waste a great deal of time trying to hook up with people who are out of your league. Likewise, if someone challenges you, knowing your own strength and capabilities might dictate whether you choose to fight or back down, and mistakes could be costly.

Where Self-Knowledge Comes From


The long road to social acceptance is one theme of this book, and self-knowledge can be helpful on that road. You need self-knowledge in order to fit in better with others. Will people like me? Am I similar to them? Such questions require selfknowledge. Moreover, as we have seen, cultural groups consist of different roles and different tasks, so it is valuable to know what your strengths and weaknesses are in order to know how best to fit in with the group. You don’t want to demand to be the group’s cook if you are terrible at cooking, because your bad food might make others dislike and reject you. Three Reasons for Wanting Self-Knowledge. People want to learn about them-

to learn the truth about oneself, whatever it is

self-enhancement motive the desire to learn favorable or flattering things about the self

consistency motive a desire to get feedback that confirms what the person already believes about himself or herself

© Baby Blues Partnership. Reprinted by permission of King Features Syndicate.

appraisal motive the simple desire

selves, but they’d rather learn some things than others. Three main motives shape the quest for self-knowledge. These three motives sometimes compete against each other, and different motives predominate in different people or different circumstances. The first motive is the simple desire to learn the truth about oneself, whatever it is. This can be called the appraisal motive. It consists of a broad, open-minded curiosity, and its main preference is for information that is both important and reliable (Trope, 1983, 1986). For example, the appraisal motive may motivate people to start out with tasks of medium difficulty, because these offer the most information. If you start out with something that is very easy, then success does not give you much information about whether you have high or low ability, because anyone might succeed at an easy task. By the same token, if you start out with something that is very difficult, then failure does not give you much information about whether you have high or low ability, because anyone might fail at a difficult task. The second motive, called the self-enhancement motive, is the desire to learn favorable or flattering things about the self. Unlike the appraisal motive, the selfenhancement motive can exert considerable bias, driving people to dismiss or ignore criticism while exaggerating or inflating any signs of their good qualities. The third motive, the consistency motive, is a desire to get feedback that confirms what the person already believes about himself or herself. Once people have formed ideas about themselves, they are generally reluctant to revise those opinions. In this respect, self-knowledge is no different from knowledge about many aspects of the world: Once people have formed opinions or beliefs about almost anything, they are resistant to change. The consistency motive is also sometimes called the selfverification motive, which implies that people actively seek to “verify” their selfconcepts by obtaining confirmation that what they think about themselves is correct (Swann, 1985, 1987). To illustrate these three motives, suppose that you believe that you are not very good at sports. The appraisal motive would make you want to get more information about your sports abilities, regardless of what that information might say. The selfenhancement motive might make you want to learn that you do have some talent at sports after all. (If you can’t get such feedback, then the self-enhancement motive might drive you to avoid any more information about yourself at sports, and it might


Chapter 3: The Self

also push you to compensate for your athletic deficiencies by finding out that you are good at other things, such as music or cooking.) And the consistency motive would make you prefer to gain further evidence that you are bad at sports, because that is what you already think. When Motives Compete. When such conflicts arise between motives, which one wins? Logic would suggest that the answer is based on what is most useful. Accurate information is almost always more useful than false information, because accurate information furnishes the best basis for making good choices. Hence, the appraisal motive should be the strongest. It isn’t, though. When researchers compare the three motives (Sedikides, 1993), the appraisal motive emerges as the weakest of the three. Self-enhancement is the strongest. People most want to hear good things about themselves. Their second preference is for confirmation of what they already think (consistency). They do also want accurate information, but the desire for the truth runs a distant third to the desires for favorable and consistent feedback. Also, people sometimes have more than one reaction to feedback, especially if feeling and thinking pull in different ways. The self-enhancement motive has an especially strong emotional appeal, whereas the consistency motive has more of a cognitive appeal. People may be more willing to believe and accept consistent feedback in terms of their cognitive reactions, but emotionally they will yearn for and prefer flattering, positive feedback. If someone tells you that you are extremely talented, for example—more talented than you had believed—you may find that your logical mind is skeptical of this news, but emotionally you are happy to hear it (Jussim et al., 1995; McFarlin & Blascovich, 1981; Shrauger, 1975; Swann et al., 1987). One way of understanding this ranking of self-knowledge motives is to return to the “people first” theme. It is true that accurate knowledge would be the most useful for making decisions. But probably people want to be accepted by others more than they want a valid basis for making decisions. The human emotional system is set up to promote and reward any signs that the person is likely to be accepted by others. Hence, positive, flattering information is the most appealing, because others will like you most if you have good traits. The fact that the self-enhancement motive is stronger than the appraisal motive means that people want to think well of themselves more than they want to know the truth. One implication is that sometimes people prefer to invalidate feedback, even in advance, if they think it might make them look bad. One of social psychology’s best documented patterns of avoiding feedback that could make them look bad is selfhandicapping, which is described in Tradeoffs. Self-Knowledge and the Duplex Mind. The duplex mind is also relevant to the

automatic egotism response by the automatic system that “everything good is me, and everything bad is not me”

self-handicapping putting obstacles in the way of one’s own performance so that anticipated or possible failure can be blamed on the obstacle instead of on lack of ability

interplay between these conflicting motives. The automatic system tends to favor the self-enhancement motive. When people respond automatically to questions about themselves, they lean toward “everything good is me, and everything bad is not me.” Under times of stress, or when people are preoccupied or distracted, this pattern of automatic egotism emerges (Paulhus & Levitt, 1987). Often a conscious override is required in order to furnish a more balanced and consistent view of self. Modesty in particular often seems to require conscious, deliberate control, because people may have a first impulse to say they are wonderful, and they must overcome this impulse in order to offer a more humble account of themselves (Swann et al., 1990, 1992). It is a quick, automatic reaction to feel good about praise or to feel bad when criticized, but it takes a little more thought and effort to question the praise or to admit that the criticism may be valid. Thus, the different parts of the duplex mind may cultivate self-knowledge in different ways. The automatic system favors automatic egotism (“I’m good in general”) while the conscious system can make corrections and strive toward a more balanced, accurate appraisal of the facts.

Where Self-Knowledge Comes From


Tradeoffs Self-Handicapping despite her drinking problem.” Some people, such as those with high self-esteem, are drawn to this advantage, because it enriches one’s credit for success (Tice, 1991). In one series of experiments, participants were told that the purpose was to investigate whether some new drugs had temporary side effects on intelligent performance (Berglas & Jones, 1978). The experimenter explained that one drug temporarily made people smarter and the other made people temporarily less intelligent (like alcohol). Participants then took a first IQ test. On this test, some people were given unsolvable multiple-choice questions, so they had to guess, but to their surprise the experimenter kept telling them their answers were correct. These participants experienced what is called noncontingent success: They were told they did well, but at some level they had to know that they had not really earned their good rating. In another condition, people were given easier problems and accurately told which ones they got correct (thus, contingent success). All participants were then told that their score was the highest that had been seen in the study so far. Next, the experimenter asked the participant to choose one of the drugs, in preparation for a second IQ test (which would supposedly verify whether performance improved or got worse). One of the drugs (called Actavil) was supposed to increase intellectual performance, while the other drug (called Pandocrin) was supposed to decrease intellectual performance. Participants who had experienced the noncontingent success overwhelmingly chose the alcohol-like drug Pandocrin that would supposedly make them perform worse (● see Figure 3.4). Why?

© Gary Conner/PhotoEdit

© Michael Newman/PhotoEdit

Why would someone get drunk before an important job interview? Why do some students stay out partying all night before an important test? Are underachievers all merely too lazy to get their work done? An intriguing theory has suggested that some people’s problems stem from a strategy called self-handicapping (Hirt et al., 1991; Jones & Berglas, 1978; Smith, Snyder, & Perkins, 1983; Snyder & Higgins, 1990). Self-handicapping has been defined as putting obstacles in the way of one’s own performance, so that anticipated or possible failure can be blamed on the obstacle instead of on lack of ability. The student who parties all night instead of studying before an exam may not get the best grade, but because that low grade can be blamed on not having studied, it does not signify that the student lacks intelligence. Self-handicapping was first proposed as a possible explanation of alcohol abuse. Alcohol is widely (and correctly) seen as harmful to performance: Drunk people do not perform as well as sober ones. Hence, someone who fears that he or she will perform badly might find alcohol a convenient excuse. The excuse appeals especially to someone who already has achieved a reputation for being smart or capable. (The importance of what other people think indicates that selfhandicapping is primarily a self-presentational strategy, designed to control how one is perceived by others; Kolditz & Arkin, 1982.) Many people who have a big success early in their careers worry that this was just a lucky break, and they fear that they will not be able to do as well again. For example, a rock band might have a big hit with their first recording, which launches them into fame and stardom, but they are afraid that their second recording will not be as good. Fans and critics may hail them as geniuses after the first success, but the band worries that the second album may make everyone reconsider and decide that the band is only a mediocre talent after all. Instead of letting that happen, some band members may develop a drug or alcohol problem. That way, if the second album is not as good, fans and critics can say “They are really talented, and it’s too bad that the drug problem is keeping them from producing more great music.” Their reputation as geniuses remains intact. Wouldn’t you rather be known as a troubled genius than an earnest mediocrity? Moreover, if the second performance is good, then people will assign extra credit, and so the self-handicapper’s reputation is even improved: “Look at what a great report she gave, even though she had been on a drinking binge all week. She must really be amazingly smart to do great work

Do some people turn to alcohol in order to provide themselves with a handy excuse for possible failure?



Chapter 3: The Self







Noncontingent Contingent Success

● Figure 3.4

Percent of participants in the noncontingent and contingent success groups choosing the alcohol-like drug Pandocrin that supposedly decreased intellectual performance.

Quiz Yourself

They knew the experimenter thought they were brilliant, but they privately doubted they could do as well on the second test, so they wanted the drug that would give them an excuse for poor performance. There was once a European chess champion named Deschappelles who won nearly all his matches. As he got old, however, he felt his mental powers waning, and he worried that smart young chess masters would defeat him. He used a self-handicapping strategy to preserve his reputation: He insisted that he would only play games in which his opponent got the first move (a major advantage in chess) and in which he gave up one of his pieces at the start of the game (another disadvantage for him) (Berglas & Baumeister, 1993). That way, if he lost, he would not lose respect, because the loss would be attributed to his disadvantages; meanwhile, when he won, people would marvel at his ability to overcome those handicaps.

Where Self-Knowledge Comes From


The night before an important test, Boozer plays video games all night instead of studying. This is an example of _____. (a) self-awareness (b) self-consciousness (c) self-fulfilling prophecy (d) self-handicapping


“Do I like the parades? Well, each year there have been several parades in town, and I haven’t gone to one yet. I must not like parades.” Which theory explains this internal dialogue? (a) Cognitive dissonance (b) Psychological reactance theory theory (c) Psychoanalytic theory (d) Self-perception theory


A teacher promises one of his preschool students a candy bar for finger painting, a task the student loves to do. The reward is likely to produce _____. (a) cognitive dissonance (b) downward social comparison (c) intrinsic motivation (d) the overjustification effect


The simple desire to learn the truth about oneself is called the _____ motive. (a) appraisal (b) consistency (c) extrinsic (d) self-enhancement Answers: 1=d, 2=d, 3=d, 4=a

Self and Information Processing Anything That Touches the Self . . .

self-reference effect information bearing on the self is processed more thoroughly and more deeply, and hence remembered better, than other information

Every day people process a great deal of information about their social worlds, and the self often exerts influence over how this information gets processed. For one thing, the self serves as a sign of importance: Anything that bears on the self is more likely to be important than things that do not touch the self. And so any link to the self makes the mind pay more attention and process more thoroughly. One of the earliest and most basic effects of the self on information processing is the self-reference effect: Information bearing on the self is processed more thoroughly and more deeply, and hence remembered better, than other information. In the initial studies of this effect (Rogers, Kuiper, & Kirker, 1977), participants simply saw a series of words and were asked a question about each word. Sometimes these questions had nothing to do with the self, such as “Is this a long word?” and “Is it a

Self and Information Processing



20 15 10 5 0

Is it a long word?

Is it a Is it a rhythmic meaningful word? word?

● Figure 3.5

The self-reference effect refers to the finding that information related to the self is more memorable than information related to something besides the self (e.g., Is it a long word?).

endowment effect items gain in value to the person who owns them

Dennis thought his career choice “just felt right somehow.”

meaningful word?” Other times, however, the question was “Does this word describe you?” Later on, the researchers gave a surprise test to the participants, asking them to remember as many words on the list as they could. The rate of correct memory depended heavily on which question had been asked, and the questions about the self elicited the best memory (● see Figure 3.5). For example, participants were more likely to remember the word friendly if they had been asked whether they were friendly than whether they knew what friendly meant or whether it was a long word (Rogers et al., 1977; Greenwald & Banaji, 1989; Higgins & Bargh, 1987; Klein & Kihlstrom, 1986; Symons & Johnson, 1997). The implication was that simply thinking about a word in connection with the self led to better memory. In fact, even if participants answered “No” to the question about whether the word described them, they still remembered the word better than other words. The self apparently operates like a powerful hook, and whatever gets hung Does it on it (even just for a moment) is more likely to be preserved. describe you? A similar pattern has been called the endowment effect: Items gain in value to the person who owns them (Kahneman et al., 1990). If someone asks you how much you would pay for a souvenir mug, you might offer three dollars. If someone gives you the mug and then someone else wants to buy it from you, however, you would be prone to ask for more than three dollars. Somehow the mug became worth more to you during the time you owned it, even if that time was only a few minutes and you did not have any special experiences with it that might confer sentimental value. Simply being connected to the self gave it more value. Nor does this only work with cash value: People start to like things more when they own them (Beggan, 1992). Likewise, things gain in value to the self who chooses them. In one famous demonstration, people were either given a lottery ticket or chose one themselves. Both tickets had identical chances of winning, and therefore objectively they had the same value (Langer, 1975). But when the researchers asked participants how much they would sell the ticket for, the price of the self-chosen tickets was consistently higher than the price of the randomly given ticket. Somehow the process of choosing the ticket oneself made it seem more valuable to the person who chose it. Most people do not choose their names, but names are closely linked to the self. People develop affection for their names and for things that become connected to their names. One well-established finding is that people like the letters in their names more than they like other letters in the alphabet (Hoorens & Todorova, 1988; Jones et al., 2002; Prentice & Miller, 1992; Nuttin, 1985, 1987). The fact that people like the letters of their names may seem silly and trivial, but it can actually affect major life decisions (Gallucci, 2003; Pelham et al., 2002, 2003). A person’s choice of occupation and residence is sometimes swayed by this liking for one’s own name. People named George or Georgia are more likely to decide to live in Georgia than in Virginia, whereas people named Virginia show the opposite preference. People named Dennis or Denise are more likely than other people to become dentists; those named Larry or Laura are more likely to become lawyers. You might think that that is a silly and shallow reason to choose one’s occupation or home, and perhaps it is. People probably do not consciously think “I would rather live in a place that is spelled with letters from my name.” Rather, these effects (which are statistically significant, though fairly small) probably arise because of the duplex mind. That is, the automatic system has some positive feelings connected with the name, © Stockdisc Premium/Alamy




Chapter 3: The Self

and so it serves up a bit of positive feeling when those letters arise. When the person is trying to choose an occupation or a home, certain options just somehow “feel right,” even though the person probably cannot consciously explain why. Becoming a dentist just intuitively feels a bit more appealing to someone named Dennis than to someone named Frank. This won’t be enough to sway somebody who hates dentistry into choosing it as his life’s work, but a few people who are on the borderline between dentistry and other choices might find themselves drawn to the field that sounds more like their name. (You may want to keep this effect in mind when naming your children!)

Can the Self-Concept Change? People usually believe that they have remained the same person over much of their lives. Your identity certainly changes, but it does so slowly. You have the same social security number, linked to the same tax status. Your name remains the same (even if you decide to change your last name when you marry, your first name is unaffected). You belong to the same family, though you may gradually add new members to this family (such as by marrying or having a baby). Once you start your career, you tend to stay in the same occupation for most of your life, and until recently it was common to spend one’s entire career working for the same organization. Your gender remains the same in most cases, and you inhabit the same body for your entire life. People do change, however. Children add new knowledge and skills as they grow up. Adults may take up new hobbies or break bad habits. Your body is continuous, but it changes too, first growing taller and stronger, then often growing fatter and less flexible, and finally developing wrinkles and other signs of old age. Revising Self-Knowledge. Our concern here is with the possibilities of change in the self. When do people change so much that they also revise their self-concept? There are several plausible theories. One is that you can simply decide to change how you think about yourself, and your actions will come round to reflect the new you (Jones et al., 1981; Rhodewalt & Agustdottir, 1986). Another is the reverse: You can decide to change your behavior, and the self-concept will follow (see material on cognitive dissonance, in Chapter 7 on attitudes). Both are plausible, but neither gets at the full story. The evidence suggests that one’s social world is a powerful source of stability in the self. Other people expect you to remain pretty much the same. In part, this arises because people see other people in terms of stable traits, even though they do not see themselves that way (Jones & Nisbett, 1971). Seeing other people in terms of their personality traits reflects the assumption that people mostly remain the same over long periods of time, and indeed there is some evidence that in many respects personality traits do remain fairly stable over long stretches, even from childhood into adulthood (Backteman & Magnusson, 1981; Caspi & Roberts, 2001; Epstein, 1979; Eron & Huesmann, 1990). The expectation that people stay the same can become a kind of pressure to remain constant. Many students notice this when they return home after a year or two at university, especially if they have not stayed in regular contact with everyone back home. They feel that their parents still treat them and regard them the way they were years earlier. Sometimes they find that their old friends from high school likewise seem to expect them to be the person they were back in high school. Changing the Looking Glass. Research has confirmed that self-concept change is most common, and possibly easiest, when one’s social environment changes (Harter, 1993). For example, self-esteem tends to stay relatively stable when one lives in the same social circle, and changes in self-esteem tend to accompany moving to a new school (especially going from high school to college) or a new home. One explanation is that people change gradually, but their social circle tends not to notice this

Self and Information Processing


and therefore pressures them to stay the same. When the person moves, the new social circle can see the new version of the person that has emerged from these gradual changes. Earlier we discussed the concept of the looking-glass self. You know yourself by means of others. Hence changing your social circle is a promising way to change the self. Again, inner processes are tied to interpersonal relations, so when the social circle changes, the inner self may change too. A similar conclusion emerged from studies on brainwashing. The techniques of brainwashing first attracted research attention during the Korean War, when Chinese communists sought to change the views of captured American soldiers. The Chinese had no grand theory about how to brainwash Americans, and so they just experimented with different methods. At first they tried exposing the prisoners to all-day sessions of propaganda and indoctrination, telling them how great communism was and how bad American capitalism was. This did not work very well. Then the Chinese realized that the problem was not in what happened during the day. Rather, the problem was that every night the prisoners were sent back to the barracks with the other American prisoners, where each man’s American identity reasserted itself. The Chinese found that brainwashing became much more successful and effective if they kept the prisoners separate from each other. That way, the American identity and American values were not bolstered by social contacts with other Americans, and the prisoners became much more malleable (Group for Advancement of Psychiatry, 1957). These findings about self-concept change support the view that what goes on inside the person is mainly there to serve interpersonal processes. Many people assume that the inner self is fixed, strong, and stable, and that what they do with other people is simply an expression of an inner “true” self. But that view appears to be mistaken. The important and powerful forces originate in the interactions and relationships between people, and what goes on inside the individual adapts to those interpersonal processes. This is yet another instance of our theme that inner processes serve interpersonal functions. Promoting Change. Hence when people want to change, it is important to use the social environment rather than fight against it. When people seek to change some aspect of themselves, such as trying to quit smoking or become more physically fit, they do best if they enlist the support of other people in their lives. It will be hard to quit smoking if your spouse smokes and wants you to smoke with him or her. In contrast, if your spouse wants you to quit smoking, he or she will probably support your efforts to change, and your chances of success are improved (Heatherton & Nichols, 1994). Indeed, one effective strategy for change is to persuade everyone else that you have changed. Once they expect you to act in a new and different way, you are more likely to stick to that new line of behavior. Thinking of yourself in the different way is not enough; it is more important and more powerful to get others to think of you in that way. (This also confirms our theme of putting people first: You use other people to help yourself to change.) In one experiment, people were induced to think of themselves in a new way, either introverted or extraverted. This was accomplished by asking people loaded questions (e.g., “What do you dislike about loud parties?”; Fazio, Effrein, & Falender, 1981). Some participants in the experiment answered these questions when sitting alone in a room, talking to a tape recorder, with a guarantee that their responses would be anonymous. These participants showed no sign of self-concept change. In contrast, other participants answered the same questions by speaking face-to-face with another person. These participants did change, not only in how they later saw themselves, but even in how introverted or extraverted they acted with a new, different person (Schlenker, Dlugolecki, & Doherty, 1994; Tice, 1992). The interpersonal context was necessary for changing the inner self.


Chapter 3: The Self

Thus, one route to self-concept change involves internalizing your recent behavior. First you act in a certain way, and then gradually you come to think of yourself as being the kind of person who acts that way. Other people play a crucial role as well; acting that way by yourself, in secret, does not seem to produce much effect on the self-concept. In contrast, getting others to see you as that kind of person is helpful toward making you believe that you are that kind of person. Again, self and identity require social validation, a theme to which we will return later in the chapter in the section on self-presentation.

AP Photo/Peter Southwick

Preacher Pat Robertson experienced a self-concept change. Initially he felt that God wanted him to stay out of politics, but later he became extensively involved in politics and even campaigned for president of the United States.

New Self, New Story. Once the self-concept has changed, people tend to revise their stories about their lives to fit the new version. For example, the preacher Pat Robertson once published his autobiography, in which he mentioned that God had instructed him to stay away from politics. Later, Robertson decided to run for president. A new, updated version of his autobiography appeared, conveniently omitting the earlier message from God about keeping out of politics. He now said that God wanted him to run for office. Such revisions of memory have been studied by social psychologists, most notably Michael Ross (1989). Ross and his colleagues have concluded that most of the time people want to believe they remain the same, but sometimes they also want to believe that they have changed, and they shuffle and edit the facts in their memory to fit whichever belief is more relevant. Thus, if people change their attitudes, they may forget what they used to believe, so that they think the new attitude does not reflect a change—rather, they say, “I thought so all along.” In contrast, if they want to believe they have changed when they haven’t, they may retroactively distort how they used to be. In one memorable demonstration, researchers looked at study skills enhancement programs at universities, which are designed to teach students how to study better. Most universities have such programs, but objective evidence suggests that they do not really accomplish much in the way of making people into better students or enabling them to get better grades. Students who take these programs, however, want to believe that they have improved. They persuade themselves that the program has worked by revising their memory of how bad they were before (Conway & Ross, 1984). For example, if a student’s study skills rated a 5 out of 10 before the program, and the program accomplished nothing, the student would rate a 5 after it as well—but she might tell herself afterward that she really had been “more like a 3” before the program, so she can believe that she really did improve. One of the most elegant demonstrations of how memory distorts the facts to fit the self-concept involved a study of women’s menstrual periods (Ross, 1989). An initial survey revealed that some women thought their periods were generally quite unpleasant, whereas others thought theirs were mild and innocuous. The researchers asked the women to record their feelings and sensations on a daily basis through a couple of periods. After a month or more, the women were asked to rate how bad those periods had been. By comparing the daily ratings with the retrospective (a month later) ratings, the researchers could see how the memory was distorted. Each woman’s beliefs about her general reactions biased her recall. That is, the women who thought their periods were generally bad tended to recall the periods as having been worse than they had said at the time. Conversely, the women who thought their periods were generally not so bad recalled their periods as milder than they had rated them when they were occurring. We constantly revise our memories based on beliefs we hold about ourselves.

Self-Esteem, Self-Deception, and Positive Illusions

Quiz Yourself


Self and Information Processing


The finding that we recall information better when it is relevant to the self is called the _____. (a) distinctiveness effect (b) hindsight bias (c) self-importance bias (d) self-reference effect


When she visited San Francisco, Letitia bought several handcrafted necklaces for $10 each. When she got home, her sister offered to buy one for $10, but Letitia refused. She wanted $15 for it instead. This example illustrates the _____. (a) distinctiveness effect (b) endowment effect (c) insufficient justification (d) overjustification effect effect


All other things being equal, which profession is Tex most likely to choose? (a) Bus driver (b) Car salesperson (c) Taxi driver (d) All of the above are equally likely.


When a bad event happens to a person, if it is extremely unpleasant people remember it as being ______, and if it was mildly unpleasant people remember it as being _____. (a) better than it was; (b) better than it was; better than it was worse than it was (c) worse than it was; (d) worse than it was; better than it was worse than it was Answers: 1=d, 2=b, 3=c, 4=c

Self-Esteem, Self-Deception, and Positive Illusions Self-Esteem self-esteem how favorably someone evaluates himself or herself

Self-esteem refers to how favorably someone evaluates himself or herself. People with high self-esteem hold very favorable views, which usually means they consider themselves to be competent, likable, attractive, and morally good people. In principle, low self-esteem would be the opposite; that is, you might think that people with low self-esteem would regard themselves as incompetent, ugly, unlikable, and morally wicked. In practice, however, few people regard themselves in such strongly negative terms. A more common form of low self-esteem is simply the absence of strong positive views about the self. Thus, the person with high self-esteem says “I am great,” but the person with low self-esteem says “I am so-so” rather than “I am terrible.” People with high self-esteem are not hard to understand. They think they have good traits, and they want others to share that view; they are willing to take chances and try new things because they think they will succeed. People with low self-esteem are the greater puzzle. What do they want, and what is it like to be one of them? There have been many different theories and assumptions about low self-esteem, but research is converging to show which of them are correct. Here are some of the main conclusions about people with low self-esteem: ●

self-protection trying to avoid loss of esteem

They do not want to fail. (This is contrary to some early theories, including those based on consistency, which assumed that people with low self-esteem would seek to confirm their bad impressions of themselves.) Indeed, people with low self-esteem have the same goals and strivings that people with high selfesteem have, such as to be successful and to get others to like them. The difference is mainly that people with low self-esteem are less confident that they can achieve these positive goals (McFarlin & Blascovich, 1981). Their ideas about themselves are conflicted and uncertain, a pattern called “selfconcept confusion.” When asked questions about themselves, people with low self-esteem are more likely than other people to say they do not know or are not sure; more likely to give contradictory answers, such as being both “calm” and “nervous”; and more likely to describe themselves differently on different days (Campbell, 1990). They focus on self-protection instead of self-enhancement. (Self-protection means trying to avoid loss of esteem.) People with low self-esteem go through

Chapter 3: The Self

Non Sequitur © 2003 Wiley Miller. Dist. By Universal Press Syndicate. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


Many believe that low self-esteem lies at the root of many social and psychological problems.

life looking to avoid failure, embarrassment, rejection, and other misfortunes, even if this means not taking chances or pursuing opportunities (Baumeister et al., 1989). They are more prone to emotional highs and lows. Events affect them more strongly than other people, and so they are more vulnerable to mood swings and other emotional overreactions (Campbell, Chew, & Scratchley, 1991).

One way to boost self-esteem is to associate with winners and distance oneself from losers. Is Bad Stronger Than Good? talks about how this applies to sports fans. In recent decades, many psychologists have turned their attention to self-esteem, both as a research area and as a practical enterprise. The practitioners’ focus is on how to increase self-esteem. They believe that low self-esteem lies at the root of many social and psychological problems and that American society as a whole can benefit from widespread efforts to boost nearly everyone’s self-esteem (Branden, 1994). Is the United States really suffering from an epidemic of low selfesteem? Evidence since the 1970s suggests otherwise; in fact, average selfesteem scores have been rising (Twenge, 2006; Twenge & Campbell, 2001). If anything, self-esteem in the United States is unrealistically high. One of the first illustrations came in a simple little survey that asked people to rate their driving ability as above average, average, or below average. Almost all (90%) of the people said they were above average (Svenson, 1981). Statistically, one would expect only about half the people to be above average (and about half below it, of course). This finding was at first regarded as a strange and isolated curiosity, but soon similar results began to accumulate from other studies. In a large survey of a million high school students (College Board, 1976–1977; Gilovich, 1991), only 2% said they were below average in leadership ability (70% said they were above average). Even more strikingly, not one in a million claimed to be below average in the ability to get along with others, whereas 25% claimed to be in the top 1%! What about particular groups, such as women and African Americans, who are sometimes thought to suffer from low self-esteem? In fact, their self-esteem is often pretty healthy too, despite various alarmist claims that it is low. Women’s self-esteem is only slightly below that of men (Kling, Hyde, Showers, & Buswell, 1999). The difference is largest during adolescence, and it seems to be large not because the selfesteem of adolescent girls is especially low but because many teenage boys are very egotistical. Women and girls tend to be critical of their bodies, whereas boys and men think their bodies are just fine, and this discrepancy probably accounts for most if not all of the gender difference in self-esteem. (There is no sign that women regard themselves as less intelligent than men, for example, or less able to get along with others.) Meanwhile, African Americans actually have somewhat higher self-esteem than other Americans, though again the difference is not very large (Crocker & Major, 1989; Gray-Little & Hafdahl, 2000; Twenge & Crocker, 2002). Their high selfesteem makes African Americans somewhat unusual, because other minority groups average lower than European Americans in self-esteem (Twenge & Crocker, 2002). Still, no group really scores very low in self-esteem; the differences are just a matter of whether the group regards itself as significantly above average, or closer to average.

Reality and Illusion The preceding section focused on self-esteem, which entails how well a person thinks or feels about self. Whether those feelings are accurate is another matter. Are selfconcepts accurate, or filled with illusion? In the 1960s, clinical psychologists noticed that depression is linked to low selfesteem and began to theorize that depressed people have a distorted perception of the world. They began studying the cognitive strategies of depressed people to see

Self-Esteem, Self-Deception, and Positive Illusions


Is Bad Stronger Than Good? Basking and Blasting tern that bad is stronger than good, the blasting effect was stronger than the basking one. That is, students showed a stronger tendency to say bad things about the rival university than to say good things about their own university (Cialdini & Richardson, 1980). For fans who identify strongly with their teams, the success or failure of the team is felt as if it were a personal experience of the fan. After their favorite team won (as compared to when it lost), fans became more confident about their own performance on several laboratory tasks such as throwing a ball dart, unscrambling letters to spell words (anagrams), and trying to get a date. Actual performance was not affected—all that changed was the fan’s expectation of doing well (Hirt et al., 1992). Not everyone was equally affected: The more strongly the fan identified with the team, the stronger was the effect of the team’s victory or defeat on the fan’s expectations about his own personal performances. And when both team wins and team losses were compared to a no-result control condition, the researchers found that losing had a stronger effect than winning. Thus, watching your favorite team lose can have a substantial effect that carries over into making you feel less capable of succeeding in your own life.

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Most people want to think well of themselves and be well regarded by others (at least some others). There are several ways to go about this. One of them is to seek success on your own, by dint of your individual efforts. Another approach depends on the groups to which you belong. People prefer to be associated with winners than with losers. In sports, loyal fans who stick with a team through losing seasons often express contempt for “front-runners”— fans who only support a team when it wins and lose interest when the team falls on hard times. The phenomenon of front-runners shows that many people simply want to associate themselves with a successful performer, rather than remain true to a team or other institution no matter how well or badly it performs. Robert Cialdini and his colleagues (1976) have termed this preference for linking oneself to winners “basking in reflected glory” (BIRG). They surveyed college campuses on Mondays after major football games and found that students were more likely to wear the school colors after a victory than after a defeat. Thus, wearing school colors was not so much a sign of loyalty to the team or identification with their university as a selective strategy allowing the wearer to bask in the glory of the winning team. Students were also more prone to refer to their university’s team as if they (the students) were part of it after a win (“We won”) than after a loss (“They lost”). In subsequent work, Cialdini went on to distinguish “basking” (saying one’s own university was good) from “blasting” (saying a rival university was bad). Participants in these studies had the opportunity to rate their own university or its arch rival. The desire to give their self-image a boost was increased by having participants receive personal criticism in the form of failure feedback on a creativity test. In response to this blow to their self-esteem, students exhibited both basking and blasting patterns; that is, they responded to personal criticism both by giving their own university a higher rating and by giving their arch rival a more negative rating. Still, consistent with the general pat-

If it weren’t game day, they probably wouldn’t dress like this!

how those distortions arose (Beck, 1976, 1988; Beck & Burns, 1978; Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979; Clark, Beck, & Brown, 1989; Ottaviani & Beck, 1987; Shaw & Beck, 1977). For example, do depressed people ignore their own successes and good traits, while exaggerating their faults and failures? Some researchers began to conduct careful studies on how depressed people perceived and interpreted events. These studies eventually produced a very surprising result. Depressed people don’t seem to distort things very much; rather, normal (nondepressed) people are the ones who distort. Depressed people seem to be pretty equal in taking the blame for failure and the credit for success, whereas normal people reject blame for failure


Chapter 3: The Self

while claiming plenty of credit for success. Depressed people are pretty accurate about estimating how much control they have over events, whereas normal people overestimate control (Alloy & Abramson, 1979). Depressed people are pretty accurate at guessing who likes them and who doesn’t, whereas normal people overestimate how favorably other people regard them (Lewinsohn, Mischel, Chaplin, & Barton, 1980). Instead of trying to understand how depressed people have learned to distort their thinking in a bad way, it seemed imperative to learn how normal people distort their thinking in a positive way. Somehow depressed people—unlike happy, healthy people—simply fail to put a positive spin on the events in their lives. In 1988, social psychologists Shelley Taylor and Jonathon Brown provided an influential summary of the ways in which well-adjusted, mentally healthy people distort their perception of events. They listed three “positive illusions” that characterize the thought processes of these normal people. ●

People overestimate their good qualities (and underestimate their faults). Normal people think they are smarter, more attractive, more likable, more virtuous, easier to get along with, and in other ways better than they actually are. This explains the “above average effect” already noted, by which most people claim to be better than the average person. People overestimate their perceived control over events. Normal people tend to think they are largely in control of events in their lives and that what happens to them is generally the result of their own actions. They believe they have the power to make their lives better and to prevent many misfortunes and problems from occurring. People are unrealistically optimistic. They think their own personal chances of getting a good job, having a gifted child, acquiring a great deal of money, and experiencing other positive events are better than the chances of the average person like themselves. Conversely, they think their chances of being unemployed, getting a divorce, having a retarded child, losing a lot of money, being severely injured in an accident, and experiencing other misfortunes are lower than the average person’s chances. Each person tends to see his or her own future as somewhat brighter than other people’s.

Don’t people get into trouble because of these illusions? You might think that these illusions would create a broad overconfidence that could get people to make poor decisions, such as overcommitting themselves, taking foolish chances, or investing money unwisely. They may sometimes have that effect, but apparently people have a remarkable capacity to set their illusions aside and be realistic when they have to make a decision. People have a special mind-set that goes with making choices (Gollwitzer & Kinney, 1989; Taylor & Gollwitzer, 1995). Once the decision is made, people then go right back to their optimistic and confident outlook. You might think that these positive illusions contradict the general pattern that bad is stronger than good. They don’t. Bad things that happen to people have a strong impact, indeed stronger than good events, all else being equal. But all else is not equal. People want to believe good things about themselves. Positive illusions flourish partly because of wishful thinking, also called self-deception. The next section will consider some ways people manage this.

How People Fool Themselves

self-deception strategies mental tricks people use to help themselves believe things that are false

How do people sustain these positive illusions? Don’t everyday experiences burst their bubble and force them to face reality? Someone who believes falsely that he is a genius at math might sign up for an advanced math class, for example, and getting a C or D would seemingly dispel any such illusions of mathematical brilliance. The fact that people seem able to keep these positive illusions intact for long periods of time has prompted social psychologists to examine self-deception strategies, which are defined as mental tricks people use to help themselves believe things that are false. Normally, of course, these are false beliefs that the person wants to be true.

Self-Esteem, Self-Deception, and Positive Illusions

self-serving bias a pattern in which people claim credit for success but deny blame for failure


These methods of self-deception are particularly relevant to the theme that “bad is stronger than good.” If people’s self-concepts were more affected by their failures than by their successes, then most people would probably consider themselves below average! But we have seen that the opposite is true. Self-deception is a pattern of cognitive tricks and strategies that people use to dismiss or diminish the impact of failures and other kinds of bad feedback. The greater power of bad feedback can be offset by these mental tricks as long as people use them in a biased fashion, so that successes and good feedback are accepted while failures and bad ones are questioned, discredited, and forgotten. One self-deception strategy is called the self-serving bias (Gonzales et al., 1990; Weary, 1980; Zuckerman, 1979). This is a common method of interpreting events (and hence an important part of attribution theory—a broad attempt to explain how people interpret all sorts of social events and outcomes—to be discussed in Chapter 5). Essentially, the person claims credit for success but denies blame for failure. Getting a good grade on a test, for example, is taken as a sign that “I’m really smart and good at this.” Getting a bad grade is more likely to be chalked up to external factors, such as not having had a good night’s sleep, not having studied the right things, or bad luck. (Also recall the Tradeoffs section on self-handicapping, which helps make sure that the self gets credit for success but no blame for failure.) A related strategy is to be more skeptical and critical of bad feedback than good feedback. In several studies, researchers had students take a test and then told them at random that they had done either very well or very poorly on the test. Even though they had taken exactly the same test, the people who were told they had done well rated the test as fair and effective, but the people who were told they had done badly thought the test was unfair and poorly designed (Kunda, 1990; Pyszczynski et al., 1985; Wyer & Frey, 1983). Such tactics enable people to avoid having to revise their self-concepts in light of failure, enabling them to keep their positive illusions intact. The basic mental processes of attention and memory can also help by being selective. Many people end up remembering good things better than bad things, partly because they spend more time thinking about them and mentally replaying them (Baumeister & Cairns, 1992; Crary, 1966; Kuiper & Derry, 1982; Mischel et al., 1976). Although occasionally failures or criticism stick in one’s mind, people usually try not to dwell on them, whereas they enjoy reliving their triumphs and great moments. Selectively focusing on good things can help counteract the greater power of bad things. Controlling what you pay attention to has been called the “junk mail theory of self-deception” (Greenwald, 1988). You can often recognize a piece of junk mail just by looking at the envelope, so you can throw it away without having to open it and read the contents. In similar fashion, when bad or unwelcome news comes your way, you can often just recognize it as bad from the first and hence not spend much time absorbing it. In this way, you reduce its impact and make it easier to forget. Another strategy makes use of the fact that good and bad are usually relative, as our earlier discussion of social comparison showed. Being able to run a mile in 7 minutes, for example, is neither good nor bad in itself; the evaluation depends on whom you are comparing yourself against. Compared to the speed of expert runners, a 7-minute mile is pathetically slow, but compared to overweight middle-aged bank tellers it is probably terrific. People can turn this to their advantage by choosing their comparison group carefully. People give the most attention to those who are just slightly worse than themselves, because those comparisons make them feel good (Crocker & Major, 1989; Taylor, 1983; Wills, 1981). The Japanese have an expression “Others’ misfortunes taste like honey.” In a similar vein, people skew their impressions of other people so as to convince themselves that their good traits are unusual whereas their faults are commonly found in many other people (Campbell, 1986; Marks, 1984; Suls & Wan, 1987). For example, if you are musically talented but have trouble meeting deadlines, you may find yourself thinking that musical talent is rare but procrastination (putting things

Chapter 3: The Self

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If nobody else can do this, I must be pretty special.

off, being late, missing deadlines) is common. That makes your fault seem minimal, whereas your good quality makes you special. People are especially inclined to engage in such distortions regarding traits that are central to their self-concepts, and people with high self-esteem are more prone to these distortions than people with low selfesteem. (Probably their high self-esteem is partly sustained by these tricks.) Yet another strategy relies on the fact that many definitions of good traits are slippery, so people can choose a definition that makes them look good (Dunning et al., 1989, 1991, 1992, 1995). Most people want to be a good romantic partner, for example, but what exactly defines a good romantic partner? One person can think she is a good romantic partner because she is thoughtful, another can think the same because he is a good listener, and others might think they qualify because they are funny, or easy to get along with, or good in bed, or trustworthy, or able to hold their temper. Such shifting criteria may help explain how everyone can regard himself or herself as above average.

Benefits of Self-Esteem In recent decades, American society has devoted plenty of effort to boosting selfesteem, especially among schoolchildren and other groups considered to need a boost. This was based on the hope that many benefits would flow from high selfesteem. Would high self-esteem cause people to do better in school? Do you have to love yourself before you can love someone else? Will high self-esteem prevent prejudice, violence, drug addiction, and other ills? Many results have been disappointing. People with high self-esteem do report that they are smarter, are more successful, have more friends, enjoy better relationships, and are better-looking than other people, but objective measures say they aren’t. Often high self-esteem amounts to nothing more than being “a legend in your own mind.” For example, several studies have shown that people with high self-esteem claim to be especially intelligent, but on an actual IQ test they are no smarter than people with low self-esteem (Gabriel et al., 1994). Likewise, they say they are better-looking than other people, but when researchers get people to judge how good-looking people are from photos, the people with high self-esteem get no higher ratings than anyone else (Bowles, 1999; Diener et al., 1995; Gabriel et al., 1994; Miller & Downey, 1999). They think they are good-looking, but no one else can tell the difference. Students with high self-esteem do have slightly higher grades than people with low self-esteem, but high self-esteem does not lead to good grades (Bachman & O’Malley, 1977, 1986; Baumeister et al., 2003; Forsyth & Kerr, 1999; Maruyama et al., 1981; Pottebaum et al., 1986; Rosenberg et al., 1989; Scheirer & Kraut, 1979; Skaalvik & Hagtvet, 1990; Wylie, 1979). If anything, it is the other way around: Getting good grades and doing well in school lead to high self-esteem. As we saw in Chapter 1, the fact that there is a correlation makes it hard to tell which causes which. Self-esteem and good grades are correlated (though weakly), but studies that track people across time have indicated that self-esteem is not the cause, but the result, of the good grades. To some extent, other factors, such as coming from a good family, cause both the high self-esteem and the good grades. In terms of getting along with others, people with high self-esteem believe that they make a great impression on others and are well liked, but in fact there is no difference in how other people evaluate them (Adams, Ryan, Ketsetzis, & Keating, 2000; Battistich, Solomon, & Delucchi, 1993; Baumeister et al., 2003; Bishop & Inderbitzen, 1995; Brockner & Lloyd, 1986; Buhrmester et al., 1998; Campbell & Fehr, 1990; Glendenning & Inglis, 1999; Keefe & Berndt, 1996). If anything, sometimes people with high self-esteem are obnoxious and turn people off by thinking they are superior (Heatherton & Vohs, 2000; see also Colvin, Block, & Funder, 1995). Sexual activity is another important interpersonal process. To learn how it is related to self-esteem, read The Social Side of Sex.

Self-Esteem, Self-Deception, and Positive Illusions


The Social Side of Sex Self-Esteem and Saying No to Sex

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their peers are having sex and have regular girlfriends. Hence there is some link between virginity and low selfesteem in men but not in women (Sprecher & Regan, 1996; Walsh, 1991). For both genders, but especially for women, decisions about whether to have sex are complicated by the potential dangers of pregnancy. Fear of getting pregnant has historically been an important factor holding women back from sexual activity. On this, however, high self-esteem seems to be a risk factor, because women with high self-esteem tend to downplay or ignore risks. High self-esteem is often marked by a sense of being special or better than others, and it contributes to a feeling that “bad things will not happen to me.” In one study, women wrote down a list of their sexual activities, including whether they took precautions against pregnancy. Then they rated their chances of having an unwanted pregnancy. Women with high selfesteem had essentially the same sex lives and took the same chances as women with low self-esteem, but those with high self-esteem regarded themselves as safer (Smith et al., 1997). The researchers concluded that high self-esteem causes women to underestimate the dangers of sex.

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Is there a link between self-esteem and sexual activity? There are multiple reasons for suggesting that there might be. For one thing, people with low self-esteem have been found to be more vulnerable to social influence than people with high self-esteem, a pattern that social psychologists began to uncover in the 1950s (Brockner, 1983; Janis, 1954; Janis & Field, 1959). This led many experts to hope that increasing self-esteem among young people would enable them to resist peer pressures to participate in sex at a young age. In particular, they thought that girls with low self-esteem might be talked into sex before they were ready. However, the evidence does not show that high selfesteem helps youngsters resist having sex. In one large and well-designed study, self-esteem was measured among more than 1000 children at age 11; 10 years later, they were asked whether they had engaged in sexual intercourse by the age of 15. Among the men, there was no relationship between selfesteem and early sex. Among the women, there was a relationship—but in the opposite direction from what had been predicted. Girls with higher self-esteem at age 11 were more likely (rather than less likely) than others to have sex by the age of 15 (Paul et al., 2000). Other studies have failed to find any relationship at all, however (Langer & Tubman, 1997; McGee & Williams 2000). Most people in our society consider children below the age of 15 to be too young to be having sex, and research suggests that most people begin having sex in their late teen years. People who remain virgins until around the age of 20 are therefore of interest. Is there any link between self-esteem and virginity? The answer is yes, but the link differs by gender. For many women, apparently, virginity is a positive status, and they may take pride in it. Among men, however, virginity has less of a positive aspect, and many male virgins feel ashamed of their virginity. They may feel that they have failed to appeal to women. This is especially true if the men reach an age where they believe most of

High self-esteem does not prevent pregnancy.

High self-esteem has two main benefits (Baumeister et al., 2003). The first is initiative. High self-esteem fosters confidence that you can do the right thing and should act on your best judgment. People with high self-esteem are more willing than other people to speak up in groups or committees. They are more willing to approach people and strike up new friendships. They are more willing to go against other people’s advice and do what they think is best. They resist influence better. They are also more adventurous when it comes to experimenting with sex, drugs, and other activities. This is sadly contrary to the goals of researchers and therapists who hoped that high self-esteem would enable young persons to resist such temptations.


Chapter 3: The Self

The second advantage of high self-esteem is that it feels good. High self-esteem operates like a stock of good feelings that the person can draw on. When life dumps misfortune on your head, such as when you experience failure or trauma, you can bounce back better if you have high self-esteem, because this is a resource that helps you overcome the bad feelings. People with low self-esteem lack this resource, and therefore misfortune hits them harder. If at first they don’t succeed, people with high self-esteem are willing to try again harder, whereas people with low self-esteem are more likely to give up. Most broadly, people with high self-esteem are happier than people with low self-esteem (e.g., Diener & Diener, 1995). Initiative and good feelings are certainly positive benefits, though they are far less than many self-esteem researchers had hoped. Self-esteem is not the solution to a broad range of psychological and social problems, but it does at least help in those regards.

Why Do We Care?

sociometer a measure of how desirable one would be to other people

People are often quite motivated to protect and increase their self-esteem. Indeed, we shall see that many patterns of thinking and acting that social psychologists have demonstrated are based on the desire to maintain one’s self-esteem. But why? The preceding section indicated that high self-esteem does not really confer a great many advantages in an objective sense. Why do people care so much about self-esteem if all it does is boost initiative and feel good? One influential answer is relevant to this book’s theme that inner processes serve interpersonal relations. Maybe thinking well of yourself doesn’t really matter very much (especially by the basic biological outcome criteria of improving survival or reproduction), but gaining social acceptance does. In this view, selfesteem is essentially a measure of how socially acceptable you are. It is noteworthy that self-esteem is mainly based on the reasons that groups use to accept or reject possible members: attractiveness, competence, likability, and morality. Many groups and people avoid and reject people who are unattractive, incompetent, disliked, and dishonest or otherwise immoral. Research has shown that increases in self-esteem come from increases in social acceptance, whereas rejection can threaten or lower your self-esteem (Leary, Tambor, Terdal, & Downs, 1995; also Leary & Baumeister, 2000). This view of self-esteem as linked to social acceptance has been called sociometer theory. A sociometer is a measure of how desirable one would be to other people as a relationship partner, team member, employee, colleague, or in some other way. In this sense, self-esteem is a sociometer, because it measures the traits you have according to how much they qualify you for social acceptance. Sociometer theory can explain why people are so concerned with self-esteem: It helps people navigate the long road to social acceptance. Mark Leary, the author of sociometer theory, compares self-esteem to the gas gauge on a car. A gas gauge may seem trivial, because it doesn’t make the car go forward. But the gas gauge tells you about something that is important—namely, whether there is enough fuel in the car. Just as drivers act out of concern to keep their gas gauge above zero, so people seem constantly to act so as to preserve their self-esteem. Sociometer theory is not the only possible explanation for why people might care about self-esteem. Another, simpler theory is that self-esteem feels good (as noted in the previous section), and because people want to feel good, they want to maintain their self-esteem. A more complex variation on that theory invokes the theory of terror management (covered in Chapter 2), which holds that fear of death is at the root of all human striving. Terror management theorists assert that having high self-esteem helps shield people from fear of death, so people seek out self-esteem as a way of avoiding a recognition that they are going to die (Greenberg, Solomon, & Pyszczynski, 1997).

Self-Esteem, Self-Deception, and Positive Illusions


Is High Self-Esteem Always Good?

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The trait of narcissism is based on the Greek myth of Narcissus, a young man who fell in love with his own reflection in the water. As illustrated in the painting, narcissists are in love with themselves.

Reprinted by permission of Creator's Syndicate, Inc.

narcissism excessive self-love and a selfish orientation

Focusing mainly on the benefits of high self-esteem might create the impression that high self-esteem is always a good thing. Alas, the benefits of high self-esteem may be balanced by drawbacks, as is the case with many tradeoffs. The negative aspects of high self-esteem may be especially apparent in the form of narcissism, a trait that is linked to high self-esteem but that captures its worst aspects. The trait of narcissism is based on the Greek myth of Narcissus, a young man who fell in love with his own reflection in the water and did nothing but stare at it until he died. In psychology, narcissism refers to excessive self-love and a selfish orientation. Narcissists think very well of themselves, and as a result they are willing to take advantage of others. Narcissism is not the same as high self-esteem, but the two are related. Probably the simplest way to understand the link is to think of narcissism as a subset of high self-esteem. That is, nearly all narcissists have high self-esteem, but many people have high self-esteem without being narcissists. To be sure, there has been some controversy about the self-esteem of narcissists. They often act superior to other people and seem to think they deserve to be treated better than others, but clinical psychologists used to think (and some still think) that this egotistical behavior is a disguise that conceals secret feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. However, research has not been very successful at finding that narcissists really have low self-esteem; indeed, narcissists seem to be confident if not downright conceited through and through. The only area in which they do not seem to rate themselves especially high concerns getting other people to like them, which narcissists are relatively indifferent about. Admiration is more important to them than liking, and they want and expect others to admire them (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001). Narcissists tend to be more aggressive and violent than other people (Bushman & Baumeister, 1998, 2002; Bushman et al., 2003). In particular, narcissists want and expect other people to admire them, and they are prone to turn nasty when they are criticized. The self-esteem movement had hoped that raising self-esteem would reduce aggression, but there is no evidence that this happens. High self-esteem (and not just narcissism) is also associated with higher prejudice (Aberson et al., 2000; Crocker & Schwartz, 1985). People who think well of themselves also tend to think their group is better than other groups, and they discriminate more heavily than other people in favor of their own group. Narcissists also make poor relationship partners in many respects (Buss & Shackelford, 1997; Campbell, 1999, 2005; Campbell & Foster 2002; Campbell et al., 2002). Narcissists typically approach relationships with the attitude of “what’s in it for me?” and hence do not really try to build a lasting intimacy with another person. They try to associate with glamorous people because they think these others will make them seem glamorous too. They adopt a “game-playing” approach to relationships that helps them maintain power and autonomy without giving much of themselves to the other person. They are also prone to infidelity; if a seemingly more desirable partner comes along, the narcissist will not have many qualms about dumping his or her current partner and hooking up with the new one. More broadly, narcissists are not as loyal to their partners as other people. They are prone to take advantage of their partners when they get the chance. Also, narcissists often think they deserve someone better, so even if they have a good relationship they may still keep an eye out in case a more attractive or desirable partner comes along. Loving someone who loves himself (or herself) is no picnic, because he will readily dump you in favor of someone else (see Campbell, 2005).


Chapter 3: The Self

As we can see, most of the drawbacks of high self-esteem pertain to the person’s relations with others. In tradeoff terms, high self-esteem has both costs and benefits, but they are not distributed fairly. The benefits of someone’s high self-esteem mostly go to the person himself or herself, whereas the costs of someone’s high self-esteem mostly fall on other people. The previous section noted that people with high self-esteem have more initiative than those with low self-esteem. In general, initiative may be a good thing, but it certainly can contribute to antisocial actions as well. Research on bullies, for example, began with the old idea that bullies secretly suffer from low self-esteem, but this proved false. The most careful studies have found that bullies have high self-esteem, as do the people who help bullies by joining in to torment their victims; but people who stand up to bullies and resist them, including coming to the aid of victims, also have high self-esteem (Olweus, 1994; Salmivalli et al., 1999). This pattern captures both sides of initiative. People who think well of themselves have more initiative and use it either for bad purposes (bullying others) or for good ones (resisting bullies and protecting victims). Low self-esteem was found mainly among the victims; in fact, the victim role is often a passive one, defined by the absence of initiative. Persistence in the face of failure also takes initiative (and possibly some resource of good feelings to help overcome discouragement—remember that good feelings were the other benefit of high self-esteem). Many studies have found that people with high self-esteem are more likely than those with low self-esteem to keep trying despite an initial failure (Perez, 1973; Shrauger & Sorman, 1977). In general, we assume that this is a good thing, because the chances of eventual success are greater if you keep trying than if you give up. Then again, some endeavors are truly hopeless, lost causes, and continuing to try simply means greater failure. Think of a football coach who keeps calling for a play that never works because the other team knows how to defend against it; or an investor who keeps putting money into a stock that keeps losing; or a scientist who keeps trying to prove a theory that is truly wrong. People with high self-esteem are prone to make that kind of error too. Their persistence in the face of failure can be either a good or a bad thing (Janoff-Bulman & Brickman, 1982; McFarlin, 1985; McFarlin et al., 1984; Sandelands et al., 1988). In general, though, people with high self-esteem do seem to manage these situations better and make better use of information about when to persist as opposed to when to move on and try something else (DiPaula & Campbell 2002; McFarlin, 1985).

Pursuing Self-Esteem Self-esteem does not just happen. Many people actively pursue self-esteem. Typically they choose some sphere or dimension (such as schoolwork, popularity, or sports) as important to them, invest themselves in it, and try to succeed at it. Although most people in our culture pursue self-esteem, they go about it in different ways. People who already have high self-esteem pursue it by seeking to dominate others and to increase their competence at valued abilities. People with low selfesteem pursue it by seeking acceptance and validation from others, and especially by avoiding failures (Crocker & Park, 2004). There is increasing evidence that pursuing self-esteem as an end in itself can have harmful consequences (Crocker & Park, 2004). Pursuing self-esteem can compromise the pursuit of competence, as when people choose easy tasks so they can be sure of succeeding. It impairs autonomy, because seekers of self-esteem often do whatever others will approve rather than what they themselves might want to do. The pursuit of self-esteem creates feelings of pressure to live up to others’ expectations, and therefore it weakens people’s intrinsic motivation (i.e., their interest in doing something for its own sake). It impairs learning, because when self-esteem is on the line people react to setbacks or criticism as threatening events rather than as helpful feedback. It can damage relationships, because self-esteem seekers compete against their relationship partners and thereby sometimes undermine intimacy and mutuality. They may also withdraw from partners who are too successful, because



they feel that they are losing in comparison (see also Tesser, 1988). Last, the pursuit of self-esteem can be harmful to health, both because it increases stress and because it can lead to unhealthy coping behaviors such as drinking and smoking to deal with bad feelings associated with having one’s self-esteem on the line. When people stake their self-esteem on succeeding in some domain, then failure in that domain produces strong negative reactions, including increased anxiety and other negative emotions, as well as drops in self-esteem. If anything, the drops that go with such failures are bigger than the increases that come from success (Crocker et al., 2002, in press), consistent with the pattern that bad is stronger than good.

Quiz Yourself 1.

Self-Esteem, Self-Deception, and Positive Illusions

A person’s overall self-evaluation or sense of self-worth constitutes his or her _____. (a) possible self (b) self-awareness (c) self-efficacy (d) self-esteem


Depressed people _____ how favorably other people regard them, whereas normal people _____ how favorably other people regard them. (a) estimate accurately; (b) estimate accurately; overestimate underestimate (c) underestimate; estimate (d) underestimate; accurately overestimate


Which of the following is a positive illusion that people hold? (a) People overestimate (b) People overestimate their strengths and their perceived control underestimate their over events. faults.

(c) People are unrealistically (d) All of the above. optimistic. 4.

When Frank does well on a test, he claims responsibility for the success, but when he does poorly on a test, he denies responsibility and blames his professor for writing a difficult test with ambiguous items. This is an example of _____. (a) a positive illusion (b) the overjustification effect (c) the self-reference effect (d) the self-serving bias

Answers: 1=d, 2=a, 3=d, 4=d

Self-Presentation Self-esteem, or egotism, is a common explanation for behavior. Supposedly people do many things—work hard, get in a fight, compete, show off, enjoy compliments, and more—to bolster or protect their self-esteem. Yet why would people care so much about self-esteem? Why would the human psyche be designed to try to prove itself better than other people? Cultural animals do need to care, and care very much, about what other people think of them. Could it be that much of what is commonly regarded as egotism, as trying to think well of oneself, is at heart a concern with how others think of you? Undeniably, people do want to think well of themselves. The self-deception strategies we listed earlier generally work so as to enable people to hold favorable views of themselves. (Although the line between fooling others and fooling yourself turns out to be much fuzzier than one might think.) Although people do want to preserve their self-esteem, on closer inspection it often turns out that they are most concerned with having other people view them favorably (Baumeister, 1982; Goffman, 1959; Leary, 1995; Schlenker, 1980). It’s fine to like yourself, but what matters more is whether other people like you. In fact, if nobody else likes you, it is difficult to like yourself! Many research studies do not make much of a distinction between private selfesteem and public esteem, but those that do distinguish them often find that the concern with public esteem is greater. As the comedian Billy Crystal used to say, “It is more important to look good than to feel good!” This chapter opened with the story of Count Zrínyi, who wanted very much to make a good impression on whoever was going to kill him. Clearly feeling good wasn’t the goal, because he would be dead. Looking good still mattered.


Chapter 3: The Self

Probably the concern with looking good to others arises from the basic facts of human nature. Human beings achieve their biological goals of survival and reproduction by means of belonging to social and cultural groups. Getting other people to like you or respect you is very helpful for getting into these groups and staying there. We have said that one theme of human life is the long road to social acceptance. A big part of this road is making good impressions on other people and keeping a good reputation. That is what self-presentation is all about. Self-presentation is defined as any behavior that seeks to convey some image of self or some information about the self to other people. Any behavior that is intended (even unconsciously) to make an impression on others is included. Self-presentation thus encompasses a wide range of actions, from explicit statements about the self (e.g., “You can trust me”), to how you dress or what car you drive, to making excuses or threats, to trying to hide your fear or anger so that other people will think you are cool.

Who’s Looking?

self-presentation any behavior that seeks to convey some image of self or some information about the self to other people

A great many behavior patterns studied by social psychologists turn out to depend on self-presentation. This has been shown by comparing how people behave in public conditions, when others are present and one’s behavior is identified, with private behavior, when one’s actions will remain secret and confidential. If you mainly care about self-esteem, your behavior will be the same regardless of whether someone else is watching. But if you are concerned about what others think (that is, you are concerned with or motivated by self-presentation), then you will act differently when you are alone than when others are there. For example, in the chapter on attitudes (Chapter 7), you will see that people often change their attitudes to be consistent with their behavior, especially if they have done something out of the ordinary or contrary to their usual beliefs. This pattern occurs mainly when other people are watching; it is much weaker if the behavior is done privately (Baumeister & Tice, 1984; Tedeschi, Schlenker, & Bonoma, 1971). Likewise, when people receive evaluations of their personality or their work, these evaluations have much more impact if they are public (that is, if other people know

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What kinds of impression are these people trying to make, using their clothing?



about them) than if they are private. Criticism received privately can easily be ignored or forgotten, whereas criticism that is heard by multiple other people must be dealt with. Even if you think the criticism is completely wrong, you cannot just dismiss it or ignore it if other people know about it. That criticism might cause other people to change their impression of you or treat you differently (Baumeister & Cairns, 1992; Baumeister & Jones, 1978; Greenberg & Pyszczynski, 1985). Self-presentation creeps into many behaviors that might not at first seem to have an interpersonal aspect. For example, washing one’s hands after using the restroom may seem like a simple matter of personal hygiene. But researchers who have secretly observed how people behave in public restrooms found that washing one’s hands is affected by whether other people are watching. Women who used the toilet would usually wash their hands afterward if someone else was in the restroom, but if they believed themselves to be alone, they were more likely to skip washing (Munger & Harris, 1989). Dieting is also guided by self-presentation. Despite all the talk of how healthy it is to be slim and fit, the strongest motive to lose weight is to make oneself attractive to others. As one expert researcher commented, “No one would diet on a deserted island!” (Heatherton, personal communication, 1993). Even people with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia are well attuned to the importance of self-presentation. In a famous study, inmates at a mental hospital were told to report to the head psychiatrist for an interview (Braginski, Braginski, & Ring, 1969). On the way, by random assignment, they were told one of two purposes for the interview. Some were told that the purpose of the interview was to evaluate them for possible release from the hospital. You might think that mental patients would be anxious to be released into the outside world, but in fact many have anxieties and fears about that and prefer their safe, structured life in the mental hospital. When the interview began, these patients presented themselves as having serious problems and difficulties, presumably so that the psychiatrist would abandon any plan to release them into the world. Other patients were told that the purpose of the interview was to decide whether to move them to a locked ward, where more dangerous patients were kept, and where consequently there were fewer comforts and freedoms. These patients presented themselves in the interview as being relatively sane and normal, so as to discourage any thoughts of moving them to the locked ward. Thus, the level of psychopathology (craziness, to put it crudely) displayed by mental patients is at least partly selfpresentation. It goes up and down in order to make the desired impression. When social psychologists first began to recognize the importance of selfpresentation, they regarded it as a form of hypocrisy—acting or pretending to be something other than what one is, possibly for bad reasons such as to manipulate others or to feed one’s egotism. However, the field gradually recognized that making a good impression and keeping a good reputation constitute a basic and important aspect of human social life. It is not limited to a few phony or hypocritical individuals who seek to convey false impressions. Rather, nearly everyone strives for a good self-presentation as a way of obtaining social acceptance (Goffman, 1959; Schlenker, 1980). Through self-presentation, people can increase their chances of being accepted by others and can claim a valued identity within the social system, thereby enabling them to maintain their place in the group.

Making an Impression What makes for a good self-presentation? In many ways, the answers are obvious: One has to show oneself to have good traits and not bad ones. Presenting oneself as competent, friendly, honest, kind, loyal, strong, warm, helpful, and so on, makes for a good self-presentation (Schlenker, 1980). The main problem with defining what makes a good self-presentation arises when the values of the self-presenter and the audience diverge. Then the self-presenter faces a tradeoff between being true to his or her own values and making a good impression on the interaction partner (also called the


Chapter 3: The Self

audience). What the person does depends on a variety of factors, including the importance of one’s relationship to the audience and the importance of the issue to the self. It is perhaps not surprising that people often present themselves along the lines favored by their audience. After all, people want to be liked, and conforming to others’ values and expectations is a common strategy for achieving that. What is more surprising is that sometimes people deliberately present themselves in ways that they know their audience will not approve. This isn’t the same as being more concerned with private reality than public appearance, because if one really didn’t care what others thought, one wouldn’t bother telling them one disagreed with them. But sometimes people deliberately make others see them in ways that the others don’t approve. If people are playing to the audience but not giving the audience what it wants, they must have some other motive for how they present themselves. This clues us in to a second important function of self-presentation: claiming identity. A dramatic single instance of refusing to present oneself in a way the audience would approve occurred in the library at Columbine High School on the day that two students brought guns and began shooting their fellow students. Cassie Bernall was in the library that day, on her knees praying out loud. One of the gunmen asked if anyone there believed in God. Witnesses said that Cassie Bernall told him, “Yes, I believe in God.” He shot her to death (CNN, 1999). Although some details of the story are disputed, it does seem that there was pressure on her to deny her religious faith, which she resisted at the cost of her life. Throughout history, many individuals have been pressured to renounce or reject their faith, and many have died for refusing to give the answers that others wanted to hear. Notice, again, that if she really didn’t care about how other people saw her, she could easily have lied and denied her faith. She insisted on making a public statement of what she believed in, and that got her killed. Claiming Identity. People aspire to many identities. A person may wish to be recog-

nized as an artist, a talented athlete, an honest businessperson, a defender of certain values. In general, it is not enough simply to persuade yourself that you hold such an identity. Rather, the claims require social validation: Other people must come to perceive you as holding that identity. In an important sense, you cannot be a great artist, or a sports star, or a brilliant student if you are the only one who believes that you are. It becomes necessary to persuade others to see you in that light. This is the grander task of self-presentation: obtaining social validation for your identity claims. People do use self-presentation to advance their claims to identity. In some studies, participants were made to feel either secure or insecure about their claims. For example, among participants who aspired to become expert guitarists, some were told that their personality profiles differed markedly from those of expert guitarists, which conveyed the message that the participant was not on his or her way to becoming one of those experts (Wicklund & Gollwitzer, 1982). Others were told that they fit the profile precisely, which made them feel as if they were doing well on their project of becoming an expert guitarist. They were then asked whether they would like to give guitar lessons to beginners, and if so how many. The people who had been made to feel insecure about their claims to becoming expert guitarists wanted to teach many more lessons than the people who were told they were already looking like expert guitarists. The insecure ones wanted to bolster their claims to being a guitarist by teaching guitar to others, because these others would view them as good guitarists. Sometimes, the goal of claiming an identity can motivate a person to engage in self-presentation in a way the audience will not like. This is why people sometimes end up arguing about politics, rather than simply agreeing with what the other person says: They identify with their own political views strongly enough that they would rather stand up for what they believe in than make a good, congenial impression on someone who holds different values. The story about Cassie Bernall and religious faith is another example of this.



Tradeoff: Favorability Versus Plausibility. By and large, people seek to make good impressions, and so they present themselves favorably. A favorable or self-enhancing way of describing oneself prevails in most social psychology studies (Schlenker, 1975). Naturally, people do not go to extremes of claiming to be superstars or geniuses, but they tend to present themselves in the best possible light, within the range of what is plausible. One authority on self-presentation has described this as a tradeoff between favorability and plausibility. In plain terms, people present themselves as favorably as they think they can get away with! They may claim to be smart and attractive, but if they think other people will find out that their claims are exaggerated, then they tone down those claims (Schlenker, 1975, 1980). This tendency toward favorable self-presentations dovetails well with the “automatic egotism” described earlier in this chapter: People automatically tend to furnish a very positive image of themselves, unless circumstances dictate otherwise (Paulhus & Levitt, 1989). What About Modesty? The tendency toward favorable self-presentation seems well designed to help people make a good first impression on other people. Not surprisingly, it is less needed and hence less common within established relationships. When people are among friends, they often desist from boasting or presenting themselves in the best possible light. If anything, modesty seems more natural and common among friends, and it may even be the default or automatic response (Tice et al., 1995). There are several reasons for this, one of which is that your friends are probably familiar with your faults and failures. If you claim to be better than you are, they may be quick to point out that you are twisting the facts. Possibly a deeper reason for the prevalence of modesty within long-term relationships and friendships is that it helps people get along better. Most religions have embraced humility as a virtue and regarded pride as either a sin or an obstacle to salvation. One purported secular goal of religion is to promote group harmony, and people probably can get along with humble, modest individuals better than they get along with puffed-up, conceited narcissists. Groups often must divide up resources that vary in quality, such as who gets the best piece of meat or who gets the better place to sleep. Humility and modesty make such divisions easier: “No, you choose.” People who think highly of themselves are more likely to think that they deserve the best, and if a group has several such people, the argument can turn nasty. There is some evidence that self-enhancement is especially strong in individualistic cultures that place a high emphasis on individual achievement and merit. In contrast, collectivistic cultures that emphasize group harmony above individual rights are less oriented toward self-enhancement (Heine, Lehman, Markus, & Kitayama, 1999). One team of experts has argued, for example, that the Japanese do not go around trying to prove their individual superiority over others; rather, they seek to improve themselves so as to become better members of their social group. If self-enhancement is found in such cultures, it often takes the form of trying to present oneself as a worthy member of the group or as belonging to a highly valued group (Sedikides et al., 2003). Thus, though Japanese may not strive to prove themselves superior to other Japanese individually, many of them do believe that Japanese culture and people together are good and in many ways superior to others.

Self-Presentation and Risky Behavior Self-presentation is so important to people that they will sometimes risk illness, injury, or even death in order to make a good impression (Leary et al., 1994). Many people try to get a suntan because they believe it makes them look attractive and sexy, but sunbathing exposes the skin to dangerous radiation that can (and often does) cause skin cancer. Many young people smoke cigarettes in an effort to look cool, adult, and sophisticated in front of others. Likewise, adolescent drinking is often driven by the belief that drinkers are perceived as tougher, more adult-like, and more rebellious than nondrinkers. Some people fear that others will think badly of

Chapter 3: The Self

Looking cool, but at what cost?

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them if they purchase condoms or if they suggest using condoms, so they engage in unprotected sex, thereby risking sexually transmitted diseases (including AIDS). Some people drive fast or refuse to wear seatbelts in order to project an image of bravery. Others resist wearing helmets when riding bicycles or playing sports. The fact that people will take such risks with their health in order to make a good impression on others indicates that, at some level, gaining social acceptance is felt as an even stronger and more urgent motive than the motivation to stay alive and healthy. Self-presentation can be stronger than self-preservation (as suggested by Billy Crystal’s remark, quoted earlier, about looking good versus feeling good!). This is yet another sign that the human psyche is designed to gain and keep a place in a social group.

Quiz Yourself



The comedian Billy Crystal used to say, “It is more important to look good than to feel good!” This concern with looking good to others is called _____. (a) self-awareness (b) self-concept (c) self-handicapping (d) self-presentation


Self-presentation concerns often influence people to engage in ______ actions than they would otherwise engage in. (a) less conservative (b) less risky (c) more conservative (d) more risky


John is a young gang member who wants to look tough to his fellow gang members. This concern about looking tough is called _____. (a) self-awareness (b) self-consciousness (c) self-esteem (d) self-presentation


People tend to furnish a very positive image of themselves, unless circumstances dictate otherwise. This tendency is called ______. (a) automatic egotism (b) private self-awareness (c) public self-presentation (d) self-handicapping Answers: 1=d, 2=d, 3=d, 4=a

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective


o other animal has a self that can begin to approach the human self in complexity and sophistication. Many of the features that make human beings special can be found in the self.

What Makes Us Human:Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective


What is special about the human self begins with self-awareness and selfconcept. Self-awareness is quite limited in most other species; indeed, very few animals can even recognize themselves in a mirror. In contrast, people have a remarkable ability to be aware of themselves, to think about themselves, and to change themselves. Self-awareness has at least two crucial dimensions, public and private, and these are useful for different things. Private self-awareness is useful for evaluating oneself, especially toward goals of self-improvement and self-regulation. Public selfawareness is vital for the task of gaining social acceptance, because it enables people to anticipate how others perceive them. In humans, self-awareness is more than the name implies (i.e., it is more than just paying attention to self). Self-awareness enables people to compare themselves to standards in a way that other animals cannot. They can evaluate whether they are conforming to cultural standards (such as morals and laws), personal standards (such as goals and ambitions), and perhaps others. This ability makes it possible for people to strive to improve and to behave morally. It also produces some distinctively human problems, such as eating disorders and suicide. Regardless, standards are important. They reveal one theme of this book: that human behavior is deeply shaped and guided by ideas. Many people deliberately try to become better people according to moral or cultural ideas. Nothing like it has been identified in any other species. Self-awareness makes self-knowledge possible. Using language, people can express and remember many things about themselves. This process enables selfknowledge to become efficient, useful, and far-reaching. People develop elaborate theories about themselves. Turn on the television and watch any talk show: Even the most boring and shallow people seem to find endless things to say about themselves. Know thyself! The quest for self-knowledge is another unique part of being human. Most people are eager to learn about themselves. The various motives for self-knowledge (self-enhancement, consistency, and appraisal) are centrally important among human beings but essentially unknown in other animals. Along with these motives go the concern with self-esteem and the cultivation of positive illusions. Self-deception may also be uniquely human. Some animals try to deceive each other, but as far as we can tell, only humans lie to themselves. Another remarkable and distinctive feature of the human self is its ability to take and leave roles. Almost like a professional actor, the human self can take up a role, perform it well, then stop and move into a different role that requires acting differently. The self can switch roles during the day as it moves from one situation to another (e.g., from office to home or to a bar with friends). The self can also make more lasting changes, such as when a person gets a promotion or a new job. This ability of the human self to change with changing roles, along the way changing how it thinks and behaves, is vital for cultural beings. Successful cultures are large social systems with many different roles. The human self probably evolved to be able to play different roles. Intrinsic motivation is found in most animal species, but extrinsic motivation is more specific to humans. One common form of extrinsic motivation involves doing something for money, and of course only humans have money. Extrinsic motivation is important for culture, because people will do things for the sake of cultural rewards (including money, prestige, status, and fame). These rewards are often vital for inducing people to do things that enable the culture to function properly. Few people have an intrinsic desire to collect garbage, pay taxes, or go to court, but many people do these things because of extrinsic motivation, and the culture operates more effectively when they do. Extrinsic rewards are the start of economic (money) relations, because they motivate people to produce more than they need themselves, so they can trade some to others and thus get other things they want. Humans know the difference between inner states and outward appearances (though not all cultures may be as sensitive to this difference as modern, Western ones). People engage in self-presentation, sometimes to make the optimal impression on the audience and sometimes to cement their claims to a particular social identity, gaining validation from having other people accept them in that role. Sometimes


Chapter 3: The Self

people engage in deceptive self-presentation, trying to present themselves as better than they really are. In general, the desire to communicate information about oneself to others is an important aspect of human life. In short, the self is something that humans know about and care about in ways that would be impossible for most other animals. Humans strive to learn about themselves, to change themselves to fit cultural and other standards, and to get others to regard them favorably. The self is a vital tool for gaining social acceptance and for participating in culture, in ways that only human beings do.

Chapter Summary What Is the Self? ●

● ●

The three main parts of the self are: ● Self-knowledge or self-concept ● The interpersonal self or public self ● The agent or executive function The main purposes of the self include gaining social acceptance and playing social roles. Asians understand the self as interdependent (connected to others in a web of social relations), whereas Americans lean toward an independent self-construal (seeing the self as a separate, special or unique, selfcontained unit). Self-awareness is attention directed at the self, and usually involves evaluating the self. Private self-awareness refers to attending to one’s inner states; public self-awareness means attending to how one is perceived by others. Self-awareness is often unpleasant, because people often compare themselves to high standards. Being self-aware can make people behave better. Human self-awareness is far more extensive and complex than what is found in any other species. Self-awareness is vital for self-regulation and adopting others’ perspectives.

one looks especially competent.

Self and Information Processing ●

Self-Esteem, Self-Deception, and Positive Illusions ●

Where Self-Knowledge Comes From ●

● ●

The looking-glass self refers to the idea that we learn about ourselves from how others judge us. People often do not realize how their minds work. The overjustification effect is the tendency for intrinsic motivation to diminish for activities that have become associated with external rewards. The phenomenal self or the working self-concept is the part of self-knowledge that is currently active in the person’s thoughts. Three motivations for wanting self-knowledge include the appraisal motive, the self-enhancement motive, and the consistency motive. Self-handicapping involves putting obstacles in the way of one’s own performance, so that if one fails, the failure can be blamed on the obstacle, and if one succeeds,

The self-reference effect refers to the finding that information bearing on the self is processed more thoroughly and more deeply, and hence remembered better, than other information. Self-concept is likely to change to be consistent with the public self, and with what people want to believe about themselves.

In many important respects, nondepressed people see the world in a distorted, biased fashion, whereas depressed people can see reality more accurately. The self-serving bias leads people to claim credit for success but deny blame for failure. People with high self-esteem think they are great, but most people with low self-esteem think they are only mediocre (rather than awful). People with low self-esteem do not want to fail, are uncertain about their self-knowledge, focus on selfprotection rather than self-enhancement, and are prone to emotional highs and lows. Basking in reflected glory refers to people’s tendency to want to associate with winners. High self-esteem feels good and fosters initiative, but does not confer many advantages in an objective sense. The sociometer theory suggests that self-esteem is a measure of how socially acceptable you think you are. High self-esteem and narcissism are associated with some negative qualities that pertain to relations with others, such as prejudice and aggression. Pursuing self-esteem as an end in itself can have harmful consequences.

Self-Presentation ●

Most people are more concerned with looking good to others than with private self-esteem.

Chapter Summary ●

Self-presentation is any behavior that seeks to convey some image of self or some information about the self to other people, or that seeks to make an impression on others. Nearly everyone strives for a good self-presentation as a way of obtaining social acceptance. Self-presentation is so important to people that they will sometimes engage in risky or dangerous behavior in order to make a good impression.


What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective ●

What is special about the human self begins with selfawareness and self-concept. The self is a vital and distinctively human tool for gaining social acceptance and for participating in culture.

> Key Terms Agent self (executive function) 72 Appraisal motive 87 Automatic egotism 88 Consistency motive 87 Downward social comparison 83 Endowment effect 91 Extrinsic motivation 83 Generalized other 80 Independent self-construal 73 Interdependent self-construal 73 Interpersonal self (public self) 72 Intrinsic motivation 83 Introspection 81

Looking-glass self 80 Narcissism 103 Overjustification effect 83 Phenomenal self (working self-concept) 85 Private self-awareness 75 Public self-awareness 76 Public self-consciousness 78 Self as impulse 73 Self as institution 73 Self-awareness 75 Self-deception strategies 98 Self-enhancement motive 87 Self-esteem 95

Self-handicapping 88 Self-knowledge (self-concept) 71 Self-perception theory 83 Self-presentation 106 Self-protection 95 Self-reference effect 90 Self-regulation 78 Self-serving bias 99 Social comparison 82 Social roles 75 Sociometer 102 Standards 76 Upward social comparison 83

> Media Learning Resources Make sure you check out the complete set of learning resources and study tools below. If your instructor did not order these items with your new book, go to to purchase Thomson Higher Education print and digital products. Social Psychology and Human Nature Book Companion Website Visit your book companion website, where you will find flash cards, practice quizzes, internet links, and more to help you study. Just what you need to know NOW! Spend time on what you need to master rather than on information you already have learned. Take a pretest for this chapter, and ThomsonNOW will generate a personalized study plan based on your results. The study plan will identify the topics you need to review and direct you to online resources to help you master those topics. You can then take a post-test to help you determine the concepts you have mastered and what you will still need to work on. Try it out! Go to to sign in with an access code or to purchase access to this product. Classic and Contemporary Videos Student CD-ROM To see videos on the topics and experiments discussed in this chapter and to learn more about the research that social psychologists are doing today, go to the Student CD-ROM. Social Psych Lab These unique online labs give you the opportunity to become a participant in actual experiments, including re-creations of classic and contemporary research studies.










Behavior Control: The Self in Action What You Do, and What It Means Action Identification Goals, Plans, Intentions Freedom and Choice Freedom of Action Making Choices

Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Avoiding Losses Versus Pursuing Gains The Social Side of Sex: Gender, Sex, and Decisions Self-Regulation

Food for Thought: Dieting as Self-Regulation Irrationality and Self-Destruction Self-Defeating Acts: Being Your Own Worst Enemy

Tradeoffs: Now Versus Tomorrow: Delay of Gratification Suicide

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective


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Chapter Summary


Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action


Courtesy of Kimsoft

Kim Hyun Hee, author of The Tears of My Soul.

Kim Il-sung, the absolute ruler of North Korea

errorists have long chosen airplanes as targets for their violent acts. One of the most dramatic was the destruction of Korean Air Lines Flight 858 in November 29, 1987. Unlike many such events, this act of terror has been recounted in detail by the perpetrator, a young woman named Kim Hyun Hee, in her book, The Tears of My Soul. She grew up in North Korea, a totalitarian communist state where all information is tightly controlled by the government. She learned in school that her country (though in fact a starving nation and an international outcast) was the greatest country in the world and blessed with a godlike leader, Kim Il-sung. By virtue of her hard work and her father’s connections, she was able to attend the country’s only major university, and her good record there earned her an invitation to become a special agent for the Korean foreign intelligence service. One great day she was summoned to meet the director, who told her that she had been assigned to carry out a mission ordered by the Great Leader himself, the most important mission ever attempted by their organization and one that would decide North Korea’s national destiny. He explained that she and a comrade would blow up a South Korean commercial airplane. This allegedly would cause the upcoming 1988 Olympics (scheduled for South Korea) to be canceled, which in turn would lead to the unification of Korea under the communist government. She said she never understood how destroying a plane and killing some tourists would bring about the country’s unification, but she did not question this, and she accepted it on faith. Being assigned such a historic mission was a great honor to her. The director explained that if she succeeded, she would become a national hero, and she and her family would benefit greatly. At the time, she never thought about the moral issue of killing so many people. “The act of sabotage was a purely technical operation,” she recalled later; her attention was focused on the concrete details, rather than guilt or compassion for her victims or even idealistic reflections on her nation’s destiny. Her contacts met her at the airport and gave her the parts to the bomb, which she assembled while sitting on the toilet in the women’s restroom. She boarded the plane and stowed the bomb (hidden in a briefcase) in the overhead compartment. At a stopover she got off the plane, leaving the bomb there. Later that day, she heard on the news that the plane had exploded, and she mainly felt relief that she had succeeded, plus some pride at having done her part for her country. She was supposed to make her way home, but she was captured by police. She began to suffer some distress over what she had done. She thought about the happy tourists on the plane, flying home and then abruptly killed. She began to have nightmares, such as that her family members were on the plane and she was shouting at them to get off but they would not listen. For the first time, she was tormented day and night by overwhelming feelings of guilt. She confessed, was sentenced to death, and then was pardoned by the South Korean authorities. This extraordinary story reveals several important themes about human action: ●

© V. Yokota/Corbis Sygma

● ●

Hee’s behavior was guided by the values and systems of her culture: Blowing up an airplane was not her idea, but she accepted it and carried it out on faith that it would benefit her nation. She trusted that her leaders were good people and knew what they were doing, and she obeyed them without question. She did not notice the moral dilemma in advance and thought only of doing her duty. By herself, she could have achieved very little, but she worked as part of a team. Her action also followed carefully made plans, with minor adjustments during the mission. During the mission, she thought neither of moral issues nor of national destiny, instead focusing narrowly on the details; only afterward did she start to be troubled with guilt. Her behavior was directed toward several goals at different levels; whether you label it a success or a failure depends on which goal you invoke. The mission

W h a t Yo u D o , a n d W h a t I t M e a n s


was a success on its own terms, insofar as the airplane was destroyed and the passengers killed, and Hee’s capture was the only part that didn’t go according to plan. Yet in the broader context it was a total failure. The 1988 Olympics were held in South Korea as scheduled, and of course the grand goal of uniting the two Koreas under communist rule was not achieved. From the perspective of fulfilling the national destiny, she killed all those people for nothing. The episode was largely self-defeating for her, insofar as she ended up in prison and (temporarily) sentenced to death. But she did not intend to bring herself to that negative outcome. Instead, she was pursuing highly favorable goals both for herself and her country. Her quest for good backfired. This chapter focuses on behavior. Why does behavior need a separate chapter? In a sense, everything else that goes on in psychology is geared toward the ultimate outcome of behavior. Yet even though psychology is a behavioral science, not all areas focus much on behavior. Many psychologists study cognition, emotion, motivation, and other internal processes, without paying much attention to actual behavior. Moreover—and this is crucial—behavior doesn’t automatically or inevitably follow from the other internal processes. You may think that donating blood or recycling or keeping track of your credit card expenditures is a good idea, but you may not actually do those things. You can have plenty of emotions and motivations and other inner processes but never act on them. Sometimes you may want something but not know how to act in order to get it. And even if you do know what to do, you may not do it.

What You Do, and What It Means

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B.F. Skinner and his box. But what does it mean to you?

It is possible to talk about animal behavior without asking what the acts or circumstances “mean” to the animal. Indeed, Skinnerian behaviorism (an approach that emphasized learning from reward and punishment as the main cause of behavior, and that dominated psychology in the 1950s and 1960s) did precisely that, with considerable success. Skinnerian behaviorism, however, failed to provide a satisfactory account of human behavior, precisely because of its failure to deal with meaning. As we saw in Chapter 2, human behavior is often guided by ideas, which is to say that it depends on meanings. A bear may go up the hill or not, but the bear’s decision is not based on concepts or ideas such as laws, plans, religious duties, flexible schedules, or promises. In contrast, much of human behavior makes no sense if we leave out such considerations. Culture is a network of meaning, and human beings who live in culture act based on meaning; this is what makes them different from other animals. This is not to say that the psychologists who studied animals were wasting their time. Many of the principles that apply to animal behavior also apply to human behavior. But to explain human behavior, one needs more, and one especially needs meaning. The importance of ideas—what you do depends partly on what it means—reflects the broad theme that inner processes serve interpersonal functions. Meaning depends on language and is therefore only learned by the culture. For example, some religions condemn eating beef, others eating pork, others eating all meat; these rules are all learned from the culture, and only humans (with our inner capacity for understanding meaning) can alter their eating habits based on such rules. To go hungry instead of eating forbidden food reflects another theme, of letting social conscience override selfish impulses. Thinking enables people to make use of meaning. Many psychologists study thinking for its own sake. Thinking probably evolved to help creatures


Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action

make better choices for guiding their behavior (though this cannot be proven at present). William James, the father of American psychology, once wrote that “thinking is for doing” (James, 1890), and modern social psychologists have shared that view (Fiske, 1992). One of the most basic uses of thought is to perform actions mentally before doing them physically. You can imagine yourself running a race, or asking someone for a date, or giving a talk in front of an audience, and these imaginary exercises seem to pave the way for really doing them. How well does it work? As people imagine something, it comes to seem more plausible and likely to them (Anderson, 1983; Anderson & Sechler, 1986; Carroll, 1978; Gregory et al., 1982; Hirt & Sherman, 1985; Sherman, Zehner, Johnson, & Hirt, 1983). Salespeople make use of this: Imagine yourself owning this car, they say, and the more you imagine it, the more likely you are to buy it. In one carefully controlled study, some students were told to imagine themselves studying hard for an upcoming exam and doing well on it. These people got significantly higher grades than any other group—an average of 10 points better than the control group. (The control group just kept track of how much they studied without imagining any part of the future.) The ones who imagined themselves studying hard in fact did study longer and harder, which no doubt helped them achieve those high grades. In a different condition, students imagined having done well on the exam, including a vivid scene of looking at the posted grades, following the line across from their number to see a high score, and walking away with a big smile. These people did only slightly (2 points) better than the control group (Taylor & Pham, 1996). Apparently just imagining a good outcome isn’t as effective as imagining yourself doing all the hard work to produce the success. But all in all, imagination has the power to help make things come true.

Action Identification

Levels of Meaning. A simple way to determine which of two ways of defin-

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You don’t stand in line by buying products; you buy products by standing in line.

How do people experience what they do? How do they think about their own acts? Almost any action can be described at many different levels of meaning. These range from low levels, which are concrete and here-and-now, up to high levels, marked by abstract complexity and long time spans. For example, “taking a test” (a medium level of meaning) can also be thought of as “making marks on paper” or “moving my fingers” (low levels of meaning) or as “proving my knowledge” or “furthering my education” (high levels of meaning). These meanings, which reflect different ways of experiencing the same action, are the focus of action identification theory (Vallacher & Wegner, 1985, 1987). Although all may be correct simultaneously, usually one level dominates current conscious processing. ing an action is the higher one is to use the “by” test. Say the two meanings with the word by in between. The higher one is achieved by the lower one, not the reverse. In the above example, you further your education by taking a test. The reverse (taking a test by furthering your education) doesn’t make sense. Likewise, you take a test by making marks on paper; you don’t make marks on paper by taking a test. The higher levels are more meaningful and are therefore richer in terms of emotion. When the emotions are positive, people prefer to move to the higher levels. “Winning the soccer game” is even more satisfying than “scoring a goal,” which in turn is more satisfying than “kicking the ball” or just “moving one’s foot.” However, when the emotions are unpleasant or disturbing, people may prefer to shift to lower levels. For example, test anxiety may be associated with thinking of taking a test as “ruining my life” or “disappointing my parents” or “getting a bad grade.” If students can be encouraged to think about the test in terms of “reading questions” and “making marks on paper” they can avoid those emotions and perform better (Sarason, 1988; also Vallacher & Wegner, 1985).

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Another reason to shift to low levels is that it helps solve problems. Whenever things stop working right, attention moves to the details in the search for a way to get them right again. A pianist may focus on the beautiful music she is creating rather than thinking about moving her fingers, but if the music suddenly starts sounding terrible she will likely refocus on her finger movements (low level) in order to fix the problem. Once the music sounds right again, her attention will go back up to the higher level of meaning. High levels may also be unpleasant because they invoke guilt over violating moral standards. Victims of crime may wonder, “How could someone do such a terrible thing?” But the criminals themselves typically do not think about the terribleness of their actions. Instead, criminals focus on concrete, here-and-now details, such as checking for alarm systems, avoiding fingerprints, and finding what they want. The story of Kim Hyun Hee at the beginning of this chapter also illustrates this point: During the mission, Hee concentrated on the details and procedures; only when it was done did she begin to reflect on the broader moral implications of her actions. Changing Meaning. When people are operating at a low level of meaning, they are

Different Meanings, Same Level. Levels of

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Expressing love, starting a family, reciting vows, wearing nice clothes, getting in-laws—all different levels of meaning for the same act.

more vulnerable to influence that can change how they think, feel, and even act. In the story that began this chapter, Kim Hyun Hee first thought of her bombing mission as a step toward reuniting her country and fulfilling its destiny, which are highlevel thoughts; during the mission she thought at very low levels; and afterward she came to a new understanding of the act as a terrible, monstrous crime. Thus, if you want to change someone’s behavior, possibly because you are a therapist trying to help someone recover from a psychological problem, or because you are a salesperson seeking to get someone to purchase your product instead of a competitor’s, one helpful method is to get the person to switch to a low level of meaning. Lab studies have shown that people are more prone to yield to influence and change their views if their attention is focused on low levels of meaning (Vallacher & Wegner, 1985). When people already know what they are doing in a high-level, meaningful manner, change occurs typically by dropping down to a low level and then going back up. This was illustrated in a study on getting married (Vallacher & Wegner, 1985). Researchers contacted people based on newspaper announcements of impending weddings (and some others who had no wedding plans) and asked them what getting married meant to them. A month before the wedding, people favored the high-level description of “expressing my love.” On the day before the wedding, many had shifted down to low-level meanings such as getting blood tests, saying “I do,” and wearing special clothes. A month after the wedding, people had gone back up to high levels of meaning, but many of these were new, such as “falling into a dull daily grind,” “making a mistake,” and “getting problems.” (Don’t worry, not everyone made those dismal changes, and some people maintained high and positive levels of meaning throughout the wedding process!)

meaning are not the only important dimension of difference. There can be different meanings at the same level, with important consequences. One of the most fundamental and important differences between people is whether they think of their traits as constant and stable or as changing. For example, some observers have noted that professional (baseball) athletes tend to have different attitudes in the United States and Japan (Heine et al., 1999). In general, the American athletes think

Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action

in terms of innate talent, and hence simply performing up to their ability, whereas the Japanese athletes think of sport in terms of continual improvement through hard work. That difference in thinking is not confined to athletes. Researcher Carol Dweck (1996) has shown that ordinary people and even children can be found exhibiting either style. She uses the term entity theorists to refer to people who regard traits as fixed, stable things (entities), as opposed to incremental theorists who believe that traits are subject to change and improvement. Entity theorists prefer to do things at which they are good, in order that success can gain them credit and admiration. They dislike criticism or bad feedback intensely (partly because they tend to think that bad traits are permanent). In contrast, incremental theorists are more likely to enjoy learning and challenges, and they don’t mind criticism or initial failure as much, because they expect to improve. Entity theorists often choose the easiest task, because they want guaranteed success, whereas incremental theorists prefer harder, more challenging tasks where they can learn (Dweck & Leggett, 1988). When students move to a new, more challenging environment, such as from elementary school to middle school, or from high school to college, the entity theorists are often discouraged and overwhelmed, and their performance goes down, whereas the incremental theorists keep striving to improve and often show gains in performance (Henderson & Dweck, 1990). Likewise, in lab studies, failure tends to be devastating to entity theorists and even to produce a kind of learned helplessness (they quit trying and give up) because they think the failure is proof that they are incompetent losers. In contrast, when incremental theorists fail, they simply try harder to improve (Zhao & Dweck, 1994, unpublished, cited in Dweck, 1996). Ultimately, the difference is between thinking that people are the way they are, period, versus thinking that people are constantly subject to change. People apply these different outlooks both to themselves and to others. Thus, entity theorists tend to interpret other people’s behavior as reflecting their traits (i.e., they make internal attributions), whereas incremental theorists interpret them as caused by temporary states and external factors (i.e., they make external attributions; see Chapter 5) (Dweck, 1996). George Gojkovich/Getty Images


Hideo Nomo played for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, a Japanese professional baseball team, from 1990 to 1994. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995 as the first Japanese player in Major League baseball and won the Rookie of the Year award the same year. entity theorists those who believe that traits are fixed, stable things (entities) and thus people should not be expected to change incremental theorists those who believe that traits are subject to change and improvement

learned helplessness belief that one’s actions will not bring about desired outcomes, leading one to give up and quit trying

goal an idea of some desired future state

Goals, Plans, Intentions We have already argued that ideas and meanings are centrally important to human action. Meaning connects things; thus, an action has meaning when it is connected to other things or events. One important type of meaning links an action to a goal. Your current action, such as looking at this page, derives meaning from various future events that are presumably your goals, including learning something about social psychology, doing well in the course, getting an education, and preparing for a career. Without those or similar goals, you might still look at this page, but to do so would be relatively pointless and meaningless. A goal is an idea of some desired future state (Oettigen & Gollwitzer, 2001). Goals, in turn, are the (meaningful) link between values and action (Locke & Kristof, 1996; Locke & Latham, 1990). That is, most people hold certain values, such as family, friends, religion, honesty, success, and health, but these broad and general preferences must be translated into something much more specific in order to serve as guides for behavior. A goal tells you how to pursue and uphold your values. Goals can also be called personal projects (Little, 1989) or personal strivings (Emmons, 1989). Most people have more than one goal or project in their life toward which they work and strive at any given time. In fact, when people are asked to list their goals and similar personal projects, the average list contains 15 (Little, 1989). Thus, the typical human life nowadays is characterized by a variety of different goals, some of

Reprinted by permission of Atlantic Feature Syndicate.

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which may be completely unrelated to others, and some of which may even be in conflict (e.g., if they make competing demands on a limited stock of time or money). Experts disagree as to how goal-oriented other animals are; hence they disagree about how unique the goal pursuit of human beings is. The experts who believe that animals do pursue goals, in the sense of having mental ideas about future states and trying to make them come true, generally still concede that human beings do this far better and more extensively than other creatures. Animal goals mostly involve the immediate situation and an outcome that is already almost visible, such as climbing a tree or chasing a smaller animal (Tomasello & Call, 1997; see also Roberts, 2002). In contrast, human beings will pursue goals that may be weeks, years, even decades away, such as wanting to become a successful lawyer.

Setting and Pursuing Goals. Where do goals come from? Almost certainly a person’s goals reflect the influence of both inner processes and cultural factors. Perhaps the best way to think of this is that the culture sets out a variety of possible goals, and people choose among them depending on their personal wants and needs and also on their immediate circumstances. For example, throughout much of history the goals available to men and women were often quite different; women were barred from many professions, and men were not permitted to be homemakers. Modern Western society has in theory opened up a much wider range of options to both men and women, though both social and personal factors still steer men and women into some different goals and jobs. For example, pressure to earn enough to support a family causes many more men than women to take jobs that may be stressful, unpleasant, or physically dangerous as long as they offer high pay. In such cases, the man’s goal of making enough money to attract a mate and support a family causes him to select some goals over other possible goals, such as having a pleasant job and reducing his risk of dying on the job (Farrell, 1993). Women, in contrast, tend to be less guided by materialistic and financial motives in choosing their careers; they give more emphasis to goals of fulfillment, safety, and flexibility (e.g., Kasser & Ryan, 1993). Again, these differences almost certainly reflect the influence of both individual preferences and cultural realities. Pursuing goals involves at least two major steps, which involve different mental states. The first step includes setting goals (which may involve choosing among competing goals—you can’t do everything at once), evaluating how difficult or feasible a goal is, and deciding how much you want to pursue it. The second step is pursuing the goal, which may include planning what to do and carrying out those behaviors (Gollwitzer, 1996; Locke & Kristof, 1995; Locke & Latham, 1990). Let us consider these two mental states in turn (● see Table 4.1). Setting goals is a time for being realistic. You may be choosing among different possible goals to pursue, or you may simply be deciding whether to commit yourself to a particular goal or not. People in this state are thoughtful and generally seek all sorts of information (both good and bad) about the goals they are contemplating. In this state, the “positive illusions” that characterize a great deal of normal thinking (see Chapter 3, on the self) are typically set aside, and people instead tend to be quite ● Table 4.1

MIND-SET Goal Setting

Goal Pursuit/Striving


Deciding what to do

Deciding how to do it, and doing it




Mental focus

Is it feasible and desirable?

Focus on means and obstacles

Mind-Sets and Goals

Core question

Why should I do it?

How do I do it?

Style of thought

Realistic thinking

Optimistic thinking


Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action

Zeigarnik effect a tendency to experience automatic, intrusive thoughts about a goal whose pursuit has been interrupted

accurate about their own capabilities and their chances of successfully achieving the goal (Gollwitzer & Kinney 1989; Gollwitzer & Taylor, 1995). A very different mind-set accompanies pursuing goals. The time for realism is past; instead, optimism and positive illusions help build confidence and foster better performance. The person zeroes in on the one goal and loses interest in information about other goals. Questions of whether and why to pursue the goal are set aside, in favor of questions of how. The goal dominates information processing, such as by drawing attention to opportunities and obstacles, driving the person to develop workable and detailed plans, and stimulating the person to persist and keep trying even in the face of setbacks or interruptions. Another benefit of goals is that they can bring the person back to resume an activity after an interruption (Gollwitzer, 1996). To get a good grade in a course, for example, you have to perform many activities that are spaced out in time, such as attending class, studying, and reviewing notes, over a period of several months. The goal (the mental idea of doing well in the class) can be important in helping you turn your efforts to pursuing the goal. Even when you are enjoying watching a television show or practicing your athletic skills, you may stop those activities to attend class or study. Hardly any other animal is capable of making such decisions to stop one activity in order to resume pursuit of a previously pursued goal. Moreover, people who are most successful in life are those who are good at resuming activities after interruptions, because most major successes in life require the person to work on them on many different days, interspersed with other activities such as eating and sleeping. Both the conscious and automatic systems help in the pursuit of goals. The conscious system does much of the goal setting, especially if the decision about whether to pursue a goal is complicated. The conscious system may also help provide the initiative to resume goals that have been interrupted. Also, crucially, if one step toward a goal is blocked, the conscious system may be helpful in devising an alternate strategy or route to reach the ultimate goal. The automatic system also contributes in an interesting way. Most people experience the so-called Zeigarnik effect, which is a tendency to experience automatic, intrusive thoughts about a goal that one has pursued but the pursuit of which has been interrupted. (This is the duplex mind at work: The automatic system signals the conscious mind, which may have moved on to other pursuits, that a previous goal was left uncompleted.) That is, if you start working toward a goal and fail to get there, thoughts about the goal will keep popping into your mind while you are doing other things, as if to remind you to get back on track to finish reaching that goal. Because most human activities naturally form themselves into units so that completing them is a goal, any sort of interruption can produce a Zeigarnik effect. One commonplace experience is that if the radio is turned off in the middle of a song that you like (or even one you don’t like), you may have that song running through your mind for the rest of the day. People perform better if they have goals, but some goals are more helpful than others. In general, it is most helpful to have specific goals and goals that are difficult but reachable (Locke & Kristof, 1996; Locke & Latham, 1990). A broad goal such as “getting an education” does not necessarily improve performance very much; specific goals such as “getting a good grade on my next test” are more helpful. People who shoot for high goals generally do better than those who set easy goals for themselves, unless the goals are so high as to be unrealistic, in which case they are discouraging. Hierarchy of Goals. Goals are not necessarily independent; in fact, most people have interlinked sets of goals. People usually have a hierarchy of goals, with short-term or proximal goals that operate as stepping-stones toward long-term or distal goals. For example, a high school student might decide she wants to be a CEO of a major corporation, which would be a distal goal, but if she had only that goal she would be unlikely to get very far. To become a CEO, you need to take many steps, such as getting an education, getting an entry-level job at a corporation, gaining experience, and working

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your way up through the ranks by way of a series of promotions (● Figure 4.1). It would be silly to drop out of high school and just look through the want ads in the newspaper for job openings You passed tests to You received qualifications for getting hired to an earn qualifications– as CEO of a major corporation, but if you only entry-level job–advance advance to stage 5. had the big, distal goal of becoming a CEO, to stage 6. without the proximal goals that lead up to it, you might not know any better (Bandura & Schunk, 1981). The person who has a hierarchy of goals, with many steps leading up to the ultimate distal goal, is far more likely to be successful. You obtained an The duplex mind is relevant to goal hierarCongratulations! You are the entry-level position chies. The automatic system can keep track of with opportunity CEO of a major corporation. for advancement– the goals and initiate behavior to pursue each ? advance to stage 7. step along the way. The conscious system may be useful, however, when an intermediate goal is blocked. Consciousness is a flexible system for processing information, and it can find a substitute goal when the overarching or ultiYou were promoted You received promotions mate goal is blocked. In the above example, if to CEO–claim your from lower level jobs– you had a plan for becoming CEO but discovcenter office suite! advance to stage 8. ered that your corporation never hired a CEO from among its own vice presidents, then you might use your conscious information-processing system to figure out that once you became vice president you would need to look elsewhere (i.e., other corporations) for openings as a CEO, or else you would have to move laterally as vice president in order to have a chance to come back as CEO. The automatic system is much less effective at such flexible thinking; if its plan were blocked, it might be at a loss to find an alternative pathway to the ultimate goal. We have noted the problems that might arise if you have only distal, ultimate goals without forming a hierarchy of proximal goals. Conversely, there are also problems for people who have only proximal (short-term) goals without the distal (longterm) ones (Bandura & Schunk, 1981). These people essentially go through life dealing with one issue or problem at a time but without a sense of where they should be going in the long run. They may be good at paying the bills, doing their assigned tasks, and responding to immediate needs or problems in their relationships, but where they end up in life is likely to be the result of a series of accidents and may not necessarily be to their liking. Having only proximal goals is not much better than having only distal goals. To live your life effectively within human society and culture, it is important to have both distal and proximal goals (preferably interlinked). In other words, ideally you will have an idea of where you would like to be in five or ten years (even if you change this goal, it is still important to have one) as well as some ideas of what you need to do this week, this month, and this year in order to get there.


You learned information for tests–advance to stage 4.

STAGE 2 You studied the appropriate information and enrolled in courses– advance to stage 3.



STAGE 1 STAGE 8 STAGE 7 You made the proper choice of what courses to take–advance to stage 2.

START HERE ● Figure 4.1

A hierarchy of goals.

Reaching Goals: What’s the Plan? Once you have a goal, you can start to plan.

Planning is beneficial because it focuses attention on how to reach the goal and typically offers specific guidelines for what to do. People who make specific plans are more likely to take steps toward their goals than people who fail to make plans; in fact, laboratory studies have indicated that making plans motivates people to get started working toward their goals (Gollwitzer, 1996). In one study, students agreed to furnish reports within 48 hours on how they spent their Christmas holidays. Some were asked to make specific plans as to when and where they would write the report; for others, it was left up to them to decide later on. The former were more than twice


Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action

as likely as the latter to complete the reports on time (Gollwitzer, 1996). Thus, those who made specific plans were more likely to reach their goals than those who did not. Plans have two main drawbacks. One is that if they are too detailed and rigid, they can be discouraging. In one study, students were encouraged to make either detailed daily plans for their studying, monthly plans, or no plans. The researchers expected the students with the daily plans to succeed the best, but they did not; those who planned by the month did best (Kirschenbaum et al., 1981; Kirschenbaum et al., 1982). (Actually, among the best students, daily plans were very effective and sometimes surpassed the monthly plans.) Why? Trying to plan every day had several disadvantages. For one thing, making such detailed plans is itself tiresome and time-consuming, so many participants in the study soon stopped making plans altogether. Another, more important reason was that daily plans are too rigid and can be discouraging. They leave no scope for making changes and choices day by day, even if one figures out better ways to do things or encounters unexpected delays. People enjoy making some choices along the way, as opposed to having everything laid out precisely in advance. When things go wrong, a monthly plan can still be followed with some revisions, but the day-by-day plans are defeated, and the daily planners felt discouraged and frustrated as soon as they were behind schedule. Thus, plans and even specific plans are good, but too much detail and a lack of flexibility can undermine them (Kirschenbaum et al., 1982). The second drawback of plans is that they tend to be overly optimistic. When was the last time you heard a story on the news saying, “Construction of the new building has been completed eight months ahead of schedule, and the total cost was $12 million less than had been projected”? Instead, most projects come in late and over budget. As one famous example, the opera house in Sydney, Australia, now recognized as one of the world’s most beautiful and impressive buildings, was started in 1957. The plans said it would cost $7 million and be completed early in 1963. By 1963 it was nowhere near finished and it was already over budget. The plans were cut back to save time and money, but even so it was not finished until 1973 (10 years late), and the cost had run to more than $100 million (Buehler et al., 1994)!

plans to be overly optimistic because the planner fails to allow for unexpected problems

The Sydney Opera House: Spectacular architectural achievement or catastrophe of planning . . . or both?

Common Mistakes in Planning. The tendency for plans to underestimate the time and cost probably reflects the optimistic mind-set that people adopt once they have chosen a goal. It is not limited to giant buildings, either. In one study, students were asked to estimate how long it would take them to finish their thesis, and to furnish both an optimistic estimate and a pessimistic one (“assuming everything went as poorly as it possibly could”). Fewer than a third finished by their best estimate, and fewer than half finished even by their most pessimistic estimate (Buehler et al., 1994). That is, even when they tried to foresee every possible problem and worst-case scenario, they were still too optimistic. This optimistic bias is related to the planning fallacy (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979), defined as the “belief that one’s own project will proceed as planned, even while knowing that the vast majority of similar projects have run late” (Buehler et al., 1994). Another sign that this tendency to make overly optimistic plans comes from people’s positive illusions about themselves is that they are pretty accurate at predicting how other people will do. When research participants had to predict how long their roommates or friends would take to complete their projects, the predictions were remarkably accurate. Problems lie not with predicting in general, but with the distortions that arise when we think about ourselves. If you want a reliable estimate about how long it will take you to finish some project, don’t trust your own judgment—ask someone else who knows you well! © BL Images Ltd/Alamy

planning fallacy the tendency for

Freedom and Choice

Cheap ticket Expensive ticket

Likelihood of buying ticket







Tomorrow Next year Concert date

● Figure 4.2

The high cost of tickets discouraged people from buying them for an imminent concert, but cost seemed irrelevant if the concert was a year away.

Quiz Yourself 1.



Optimism seems to run wild when the perspective includes a long future; in the short run, people are more realistic. People make their short-run decisions based on what seems feasible, whereas long-range decisions are made with less concern for practical issues and more attention to how desirable something is. For example, would you rather do a difficult but interesting assignment or an easier but more boring one? If the assignment is due this week, students tend to choose the easy/boring one, whereas if the assignment is not due for a month or two, they pick the difficult/interesting one. In another study, the decision about whether to buy tickets for a show depended mainly on the quality of the show if the show was in the distant future, but if the show was soon, people’s decisions depended more on the price of the ticket (see ● Figure 4.2; Liberman & Trope, 1998; Liberman, Sagristano, & Trope, 2002). Thus, as crunch time gets closer, people shift their decision criteria from broad, abstract values toward practical concerns. Thus, one of the biggest differences between long-term planning and dealing with present concerns is the greater pressure of practical constraints on the latter. In sum, setting and pursuing goals is a central aspect of human behavior and a vital job of the self. This fact brings up an even more fundamental issue, which is making choices. There are thousands of possible goals to pursue, and deciding to pursue one rather than another requires a serious act of choice. If pursuing goals is fundamental, making choices is fundamental too. The next section will address the profoundly important topic of making choices and decisions.

What You Do, and What It Means

To solve problems it is useful to _____. (a) shift to low levels of (b) shift to high levels of meaning for an action meaning for an action (c) stay at a moderate (d) shift between low level of meaning for and high levels of an action meaning for an action Entity theorists are to incremental theorists as _____ are to _____. (a) global traits; specific (b) specific traits; global traits traits (c) stable traits; unstable (d) unstable traits; stable traits traits


Goals are the meaningful link between _____. (a) beliefs and actions (b) beliefs and emotions (c) values and actions (d) values and emotions


Claudia is waiting in line to see a movie on the first day it is released. Just as she gets close to the ticket booth, the person in the booth announces that the movie is sold out. Rather than wait in line for the next show, Claudia leaves, but she spends the rest of the day thinking about the movie. This illustrates _____. (a) entity theory (b) incremental theory (c) the planning fallacy (d) the Zeigarnik effect Answers: 1=a, 2=c, 3=c, 4=d

Freedom and Choice Making choices is a major part of life. Animals make simple choices in simple ways, but human beings have a far more complex inner capacity for making choices— which is good, because humans face very complex choices. Human choice is also much more momentous than what most animals do. Think of all the choices you make: what courses to take, whom to date and marry, whom to vote for, how to handle your money, what to do on a Sunday afternoon.Understanding choice and decision making is a vital part of any effort to understand human life.


Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action

Freedom of Action The question of whether people have free will has been debated for centuries, and its importance has been recognized in such fields as theology (religious doctrines) and philosophy (e.g., Kant, 1797). Psychologists are divided on the issue. Many believe that psychology must explain all behavior in terms of causes, and if a behavior is caused, then it is not truly or fully free. Others emphasize the fact that people make choices and could have chosen differently under other circumstances, and in that sense they believe people do have freedom.

Modern life offers a wealth of options, but that requires the individual to make more choices. Thousands of different careers are open to today’s young person, whereas in bygone eras most people just followed their parents’ path.

Free Action Comes From Inside. Self-determination theory is an important per-

spective on freedom of action. It builds on the research on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation that was covered in Chapter 3. Not all motivations are equal. As the authors of this theory, Ed Deci and Richard Ryan (1995, 2000; Ryan & Deci, 2000), point out, people may be motivated to perform well out of a deep passion for excellence or because of a bribe; they may be motivated to behave honestly out of an inner moral sense or because they fear others are watching them; they may be motivated to work hard because they love what they are doing or because they feel pressure to meet a looming deadline. As those three pairs of motivations indicate, people may be motivated by something originating inside them or by some external pressure or force. Doing things to satisfy external pressures is felt to be less free than acting from one’s inner promptings. A central point of self-determination theory is that people have an innate need to achieve some autonomy, which means that at least some of their activities must be motivated by their inner drives and choices, instead of by external factors. © Jeff Greenberg/PhotoEdit

self-determination theory the theory that people need to feel at least some degree of autonomy and internal motivation

More or Less Free. Whatever the ultimate decision is about free will, there is little disputing that people perceive that they make some choices and that some of these are freer than others. In particular, people have the subjective experience that sometimes they are constrained by external factors whereas other times they can freely choose what they think is best. In other words, although absolute freedom is debatable, relative freedom is an important feature of social behavior. Among humans, greater freedom is marked by greater behavioral flexibility, controlled processes (as opposed to automatic ones), and self-regulation. In order to live within a culture and human society, humans need a fairly complex and flexible decision-making apparatus. Most animals face choices to some degree, but these are limited in scope and meaning. An animal may have to choose which direction to walk in seeking food, or where to sleep, or whether to fight over some territory or resource. These are important decisions, but they are not nearly as complicated as the choices faced by human beings in our society, such as what college major or occupation to pursue, whether to lie about past sexual experiences, how much effort and time to spend trying to fix one’s car before giving up and getting a new one, how much money to offer for a painting or a house, and whether to yield to family pressures about religious involvement. Remember, inner processes serve interpersonal events—and so the complex demands of living in human society call for an elaborate inner system for making decisions. As cultural animals, humans rely on meaning to make their choices, and meaning generally offers multiple ways of understanding and deciding. Unlike most other animals, human beings can decide based on abstract rules, moral and ethical principles, laws, plans, contracts, agreements, and the like. This capacity for thinking about a decision or situation in multiple ways requires a flexible capacity for making those decisions.

Freedom and Choice


Believing you are acting autonomously and from intrinsic motivation has many benefits. People who act on that belief derive more satisfaction, are more interested in and excited about what they are doing, have greater confidence, and often perform better, persist longer, and show greater creativity. Autonomous action also contributes to vitality, self-esteem, and general well-being (akin to happiness) (deCharms, 1968; Deci, 1975; Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999; Fisher, 1978; Reeve, 1996; Ryan, 1982; Ryan & Deci, 2000). They are less prone to fall victim to passivity, alienation, and psychopathology (mental illness). For example, some teachers encourage their students to develop their own interests, make decisions, and in other respects exercise autonomy, whereas other teachers try to control their students. The students of the autonomy-supporting teachers end up more interested in their work, more curious to learn, and more eager for challenges, and they end up learning more (Amabile, 1996; Deci, Nezlek, & Sheinman, 1981; Deci et al., 1999; Flink, Boggiano, & Barrett, 1990; Grolnick & Ryan, 1987; Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryan & Grolnick, 1986; Utman, 1997). All these studies suggest that different levels of freedom of action have important implications for how people fare. Perhaps most important, when people reach the goals associated with their own autonomous or intrinsic desires, they feel happier and healthier, whereas reaching goals linked to extrinsic motivations is much less able to produce such benefits (Kasser & Ryan, 2001; Ryan et al. 1999; Sheldon & Kasser 1998).

panic button effect a reduction in stress or suffering due to a belief that one has the option of escaping or controlling the situation, even if one doesn’t exercise it

Having an Out, Versus No Escape. One of the most profound illustrations that perceived freedom produces benefits is the panic button effect: Believing that one has an escape option can reduce stress, even if one never makes use of this option. In an early demonstration of this effect, participants were exposed to highly aversive noise stress—blasts of loud noise, delivered at random, unpredictable intervals for irregular lengths of time—while they were trying to solve puzzles. This noise stress had been previously shown to make it harder for people to perform their tasks; even afterward, when they sat in a quiet room, people who had been through the noise stress performed worse at a variety of tasks, indicating less concentration, less persistence, and lower frustration tolerance. In this experiment (Glass et al., 1969), all participants were exposed to the same noise stress, and all of them had a button on the table in front of them. In reality, the button was not connected to anything and pressing it would have no effect. To some participants, however, the experimenter said that the button would turn off the noise. He said the participant could eliminate the noise if it became too stressful or hard to bear, though he said it would spoil the experiment if the participant pressed it, and he asked the participant not to use the button if possible. No one ever pressed the button. Yet the participants who had this “panic button” available to them did not show all the problems and impairments that the stress had caused. Even though they did not make use of this button to escape the stress, they derived considerable comfort just from knowing it was there. Even the false belief that one can exert control over events makes them more bearable. Does your neighbor’s loud music keep you awake late at night? It may bother you less if you think that you could ask the neighbor to turn it down than if you think you have no choice but to listen to it. Do you suffer when you spend a Friday night alone once in a while? You may feel less lonely if you think you could find some friends or companions than if you think you have no such options.

Making Choices Human life is filled with choices. A trip to the grocery store would be a mind-numbing experience if you really confronted all the possible choices, and every year there seem to be more choices to make. One researcher noted that the average American supermarket in 1976 carried 9,000 different products, whereas 15 years later that figure had risen to 30,000 (Waldman, 1992)! Similar patterns can be found everywhere: more television channels, more hairstyles, more churches and religious denominations, more


Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action

ways to invest your money, more kinds of blue jeans. The progress of culture seems to offer people more and more choices, and there must be some attraction, because people want more choices. But how do they make them? Two Steps of Choosing. Social psychologists have uncovered several key features of

the process of choosing. It helps to recognize that most people handle choosing in two steps (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). The first step involves whittling the full range of choices down to a limited few. Out of the many dozens of possible cars you might buy (or of the millions of people you might marry!), you discard most of them and zero in on a few options. This step can be done rather quickly. It entails some risk that a potentially good choice will be rejected without careful consideration, but it is the only way that the human mind can deal with a large set of possible choices. The second step involves more careful comparison of the highlighted options. Once the list of possible cars is down to four or five, you can test-drive them all and look at relevant information about each one. Most research focuses on this second step of decision making, because typically researchers study how someone chooses among a few major options, instead of focusing on how someone reduces a large set of choices down to a few. The prevailing assumption is that people perform some sort of mental cost–benefit analysis for each option, looking at the potential good and bad sides, and then add these up and pick the option that comes out best. Although this would seem to be the most rational thing to do, people are often less than fully rational, and their decisions are subject to biases, errors, and other influences. Influences on Choice. Here are some of the major patterns that guide people’s choices: risk aversion in decision making, the greater weight given to possible losses than possible gains

1. Risk aversion. People are more affected by possible losses than by possible gains.

This is one application of the general principle that bad is stronger than good (see Is Bad Stronger Than Good?). Apparently people respond to the greater power of potentially bad events by making their decisions so as to reduce risks.

Is Bad Stronger Than Good? Avoiding Losses Versus Pursuing Gains One general principle in human choice is that people place greater emphasis on avoiding losses than obtaining gains. This suggests that the bad outcome of losing has a stronger effect than the good outcome of winning. In a simple demonstration, participants were asked whether they would take a perfectly fair bet on a coin flip, such that they would win or lose $10. Most people didn’t want to bet, presumably because the prospect of losing $10 outweighs the prospect of winning the same amount, even though the odds are exactly equal (Kahneman & Tversky, 1984, 2000; Tversky & Kahneman, 1983). People will favor a sure gain over a gamble that is statistically equivalent (e.g., a 25% chance to win $1000, with a 75% of winning nothing, is statistically the same as a sure-thing gain of $250). But they will take a gamble instead of a certain loss. It is not that people don’t want to gamble or take chances, but they place not losing

ahead of winning. Another line of work looked at rational versus irrational (foolish) bets. Rational bets are ones that conform to what expert statistical risk appraisal would dictate. (For example, a 50% chance to win $20 is better than a 1% chance of winning $100. You evaluate the bet by multiplying the probability times the outcome: 1/2 ⫻ $20 ⫽ $10, whereas 1/100 ⫻ $100 ⫽ $1.) Researchers found that people were often rational, but when they were not, their irrational behavior was geared toward avoiding losses more often than pursuing gains (Atthowe, 1960). That is, people seemed more worried about the prospect of losing $10 than they were attracted by the possibility of winning $10. In short, people’s decisions are swayed more by what they stand to lose than by what they stand to gain. Perhaps they should be—people really are more upset by losing $50 than they are happy over winning $50.

Freedom and Choice temporal discounting in decision making, the greater weight given to the present over the future


2. Temporal discounting. A second influence is that what happens right now

weighs more heavily than what might happen in the future. Would you rather have $1000 today, or $1200 two weeks from today? The logical choice would be the delayed one, because there is very little chance that you could invest the money wisely enough to turn $1000 into $1200 in two weeks, so if you take the delayed reward you will end up with more money. Most people, however, choose the immediate reward. The discounting of the future can be seen in many contexts beyond money. For one such example that mixes sex and money, see The Social Side of Sex. 3. The certainty effect. Some features of a decision involve possibilities and odds,

What price uncertainty?

4. Keeping options open. Some people prefer to post-

© John Rensten/Alamy

status quo bias the preference to keep things the way they are rather than change

For example, suppose you are playing Russian roulette. (A gun has some bullets in it while some of the chambers are empty, and when you play the game you point it at your head and pull the trigger once.) How much would you pay to remove one bullet, assuming either that (a) there are four bullets in the six chambers and two empties, or (b) there is only one bullet and five empties. Reducing the number of bullets from four to three is exactly the same improvement in your chances of surviving the game as is reducing it from one to zero, but most people say they would pay significantly more to eliminate the only bullet. This shows the certainty effect: They want to know they are completely safe.

© Mark Hamilton/Alamy

certainty effect in decision making, the greater weight given to definite outcomes than to probabilities

whereas others are certain. In buying a car, the likelihood that it will need repairs at a certain cost or frequency or that it will safeguard you in a collision are examples of things that might or might not happen, whereas you can be sure of the color and style you are getting. People tend to place undue weight on things that are certain. This is not to say that they completely ignore safety or repair records and just buy cars based on color, but they do end up relying on color a little more than they mean to do. This tendency to place too much emphasis on definite outcomes is called the certainty effect (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979).

pone hard decisions and keep their options open as long as possible. In one study of online shoppers, some were offered a selection of bargains that were only available right away, whereas others had the additional option of coming back later to choose among the same options and bargains. Those who had to buy right away often did so. Those who could put off the decision generally decided to wait, indicating a preference for keeping one’s options available until later. Unfortunately for the sellers, the customers who decided to postpone the decision hardly ever returned to make a purchase. It is hardly surprising that many salespeople make offers that expire immediately (Amir & Ariely, 2004). For some students, keeping a double major is a way of postponing a decision about their future. A double major requires students to divide their time and efforts, so they cannot be as successful at either subject as a single-major student would be, but some people pay this price in order to preserve their options (Shin & Ariely, 2004). Postponing decisions may be part of a broader pattern called decision avoidance. In a review article titled “The Psychology of Doing Nothing,” C. J. Anderson (2003) considered different forms this avoidance can take. One, called the status quo bias, is a simple preference to keep things the way they are instead of change. Would you want to


Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action

The Social Side of Sex Gender, Sex, and Decisions Someone of your preferred gender smiles at you and seems to be flirting a bit. There might be a chance to have sex later today. Then again, perhaps the person is just being friendly, and by making romantic or sexual advances you might end up embarrassing yourself. Do you make the advances? The data suggest that the answer may depend on your gender. Men seem much more likely than women to chase after every potential (or even sometimes illusory) chance for sex. The reason for this difference may lie in the fact that evolution has prepared men and women to use different guidelines for making sexual decisions. One general explanation, called error management theory (Haselton & Buss, 2000), is that both men and women make decisions so as to minimize the most costly type of error, but men’s worst error is not the same as women’s. The difference is rooted in a long evolutionary history, during which most males failed to reproduce at all, whereas most females did reproduce. Hence for females the goal is to get the best possible mate, and having sex too readily can defeat that goal. For a woman, to be on the safe side is to say no to sex a little longer, if only to make sure that her partner provides further proof that he is a good man and is devoted to her. In contrast, many male animals will have few or no opportunities to reproduce at all, and so in order to pass along their genes they should take advantage of every chance. It would be folly to pass up a chance for sex today if that opportunity might not be available tomorrow. These differences are increased by the differences in what the body does to make a baby. If a woman gets pregnant by one man today, and a better partner comes along next week, her body is already committed to the (less attractive)

error management theory the idea that both men and women seek to minimize the most costly type of error, but that men’s and women’s goals, and hence worst errors, differ

omission bias the tendency to take whatever course of action does not require you to do anything (also called the default option)

pregnancy, so again it behooves her to wait until she is certain she has the best mate. In contrast, if a man makes one woman pregnant today and then a better partner comes along, he is physically capable of impregnating her as well. A recent study of temporal discounting showed how these sexual impulses can influence even decisions that do not, on the surface, have anything to do with sex. Participants in this study had to make choices between sooner smaller rewards (e.g., $5 tomorrow) and larger later ones (e.g., $10 a month from now). After they had made one round of choices, they were exposed to one of four types of stimuli. Some viewed 12 pictures of attractive members of the opposite sex. Others saw 12 photos of relatively unattractive members of the opposite sex. Others saw 12 beautiful cars, and a final group saw 12 relatively unappealing cars. Then they chose again between sooner smaller and larger later rewards. Only one group showed a substantial shift toward the sooner smaller rewards: men who had looked at the beautiful women. The men in the other three conditions, and the women in all conditions, were relatively unaffected (Wilson & Daly, 2003). Why? Again, evolution has selected men to leap at every mating chance. Apparently the sight of a pretty woman puts men into a mind-set that emphasizes the present and discounts or ignores the future. A pretty woman can induce a man to spend much of his money right away, even at considerable cost to his future financial circumstances. She doesn’t even have to try very hard. This study suggests that simply seeing her is enough to cause the man to forget about long-term financial prudence and focus on the here and now.

exchange your home, your romantic partner, your course schedule, for another? The new one is unknown and might have unforeseen problems. People often stick with what they have, even when the alternatives seem better. Another pattern that leads to doing nothing, called the omission bias, is taking whatever course of action does not require you to do anything (also called the default option). For example, when you complete a free registration to gain access to a website, often you must uncheck a particular box if you do not want to receive junk mail and advertisements. Why don’t they leave it blank and let you just check it if you want to receive those mailings and ads? Because they want as many people as possible on their mailing list, and they know that many people will not do anything. In principle, it is just as easy for them to make “don’t send mail” the default option as to make it “send mail.” The omission bias means that many people will do nothing—they will leave the default in place—so they will get more people on their mailing list by making the default option “send mail” rather than “don’t send.”


Reprinted by permission of Universal Press Syndicate, Inc.

Freedom and Choice

Some parents use “reverse psychology” on their children.

reactance theory the idea that people are distressed by loss of freedom or options and seek to reclaim or reassert them

One general theme behind decision avoidance is anticipated regret (Anderson, 2003). People avoid making choices and taking actions that they fear they will regret later on. Apparently people anticipate less regret over doing nothing than over doing something. They also know the status quo better than the alternatives, so there is greater risk of regret if you decide to change than if you stand pat. Reactance. The interest in preserving options is the core of an important psychological theory that has held up well over several decades. Called reactance theory, it was first proposed by social psychologist Jack Brehm (1966; see also Brehm & Brehm, 1981; Wicklund, 1975; Wortman & Brehm, 1975) and has much in common with the folk notion of “reverse psychology.” The central point of reactance theory is that people desire to have freedom of choice and therefore have a negative, aversive reaction to having some of their choices or options taken away by other people or by external forces. The term reactance is specifically used to refer to the negative feelings people have when their freedom is reduced. For example, if someone tells you that you cannot see a concert that you have been looking forward to, you will experience reactance, which is an angry, disappointed feeling. Reactance produces three main consequences (Brehm, 1966). First, it makes you want the forbidden option more and/or makes it seem more attractive. (If you weren’t sure you wanted to see the concert, being told that you can’t see it may increase your desire to see it and make you think it is likely to be a really good one.) Second, reactance may make you take steps to try to reclaim the lost option, often described as “reasserting your freedom.” (You may try to sneak into the concert after all.) Third, you may feel or act aggressively toward the person who has restricted your freedom. Many studies have supported reactance theory (Brehm & Brehm, 1981). Twoyear-olds who are told not to play with a particular toy suddenly find that toy more appealing and are more likely to sneak over to it when they think no one is watching. Students who are told they can have their choice of five posters, but then are told that one of them (chosen at random, or even the one that was initially their third choice) is not available, suddenly like that one more and want it more. Warning labels designed to discourage video shoppers from renting violent movies often have the opposite effect of making people more interested in the “forbidden” violent films (Bushman & Cantor, 2003; Bushman & Stack, 1996). Most ominously, men who have formed unrealistic expectations of having sex with a particular woman may become angry and even coercive if the woman rejects their advances (Baumeister et al., 2002; Bushman et al., 2003). Earlier in this chapter we discussed freedom of action. Regardless of whether someone believes in free will as a genuine phenomenon, there is little disputing the fact that people are sensitive to how much freedom of choice they have. Reactance theory emphasizes that people are motivated to gain and preserve their choices. Having some of your choices taken away by someone else or some external event produces a very negative reaction in most people.


Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action

Quiz Yourself

Freedom and Choice

1. According to self-determination theory, activities are motivated by _____. (a) external factors (b) global factors (c) internal factors (d) specific factors 2.

Believing that one can exert control over stressful events makes them more tolerable, even if one has no control. This is called the _____. (a) certainty effect (b) panic button effect (c) planning fallacy (d) Zeigarnik effect


Mohammed is 4 years old. His mother, a social psychologist, asks whether he would rather have one cookie

today or three cookies tomorrow. Mohammed chooses the one cookie today. This illustrates _____. (a) certainty effect (b) planning fallacy (c) risk aversion (d) temporal discounting 4.

Jill participates in a paid social psychology experiment. At the end of the experiment, the researcher asks Jill whether she would rather receive $10 or be given a 50% chance of winning $20. Jill chooses the $10. This illustrates the _____. (a) certainty effect (b) panic button effect (c) planning fallacy (d) Zeigarnik effect Answers: 1=c, 2=b, 3=d, 4=a

Self-Regulation self-regulation the self’s capacity to alter its own responses; self-control

Self-regulation refers to the self ’s capacity to alter its own responses. It is quite similar to the everyday term “self-control.” People regulate their thoughts, their emotions, their impulses and desires, and their task performance. Human beings have a much greater capacity for self-regulation than most other creatures, and this is probably a crucial contributor to the human capacity to live in the complex social and cultural worlds we construct. Self-regulation enables people to be flexible, to adapt themselves to many different circumstances, rules, and demands. Self-regulation enables one’s social conscience to prevail over selfish impulses, so that people can do what is right and good rather than just indulging their selfish inclinations. In this way, selfregulation enables people to live together and get along much better. This fits the general theme that inner processes serve interpersonal functions. Self-regulation enables people to keep their promises, obey rules, respect others, control their temper, and do other things that make for better interpersonal relations. One sign of the central importance of self-regulation is that it predicts success or failure in many different spheres. Most of the problems that afflict people in our society today have some component of inadequate self-regulation: drug and alcohol abuse, addiction, eating disorders, obesity, anxiety and anger control problems, unwanted pregnancy, unsafe sex and sexually transmitted diseases, gambling, overuse of credit cards, debt and bankruptcy, underachievement in school, poor physical fitness, violence and crime, and many more. People who are poor at self-control often end up rejected by their relationship partners, fired by their employers, or even imprisoned for breaking society’s laws. People who are good at self-control or selfregulation are more likely to be successful in work, school, relationships, and other important spheres (Baumeister et al., 1994; Mischel et al., 1988; Shoda et al., 1990; Tangney et al., 2004). Effective self-regulation has three main components: standards, monitoring, and strength. The term standards was introduced in Chapter 3; it refers to concepts (ideas) of how things could be. In Chapter 3 we focused on how people compare themselves to standards, but there is more to it than that. When people find they do not measure up to their ideals or goals, they often try to change themselves. Having clear standards, without conflict, is important for successful self-regulation. If you don’t know how you want to be, it is very difficult to change yourself toward that goal. Standards can be supplied by the culture; thus, they represent an important way in which culture can influence behavior. Part of the long road to social acceptance involves learning what the standards are—what is fashionable, acceptable, cool, or



Exit (Congruity)



● Figure 4.3

TOTE (Test, Operate, Test, Exit) model. The first test is a comparison of self against the standard. In the “operate” phase, you try to match behavior to the standard. Test again to see if the match is close enough to reduce anxiety. If it is not close enough, keep trying. If it is close enough, stop changing behavior (exit).

monitoring keeping track of behaviors or responses to be regulated TOTE the self-regulation feedback loop of Test, Operate, Test, Exit


morally proper. Many youngsters find the early teen years (middle or junior high school) to be especially difficult and unhappy, because social life is changing and it is hard to learn the new standards amid a changing peer group. Many standards, especially the ones learned from culture, involve what not to do: Don’t lie, cheat, steal, spit on the floor, say forbidden words, cut in line, betray a friend, talk back to your teacher, drive when drunk, and so forth. Eight of the Ten Commandments in Judeo-Christian religion specifically say what not to do, and even the other two (honoring parents and keeping the Sabbath) implicitly refer to things that should not be done. As we have repeatedly seen, nature says go and culture says stop. The culture’s “stop” rules are standards, and self-regulation is required to implement them. The second component is monitoring—keeping track of the behaviors or responses you want to regulate. Indeed, some experts believe that the central purpose of self-awareness (focusing attention on the self) is to promote self-regulation, because as you watch yourself you can monitor how well you are changing to reach your goals or other standards (Carver & Scheier, 1981, 1982). Without self-awareness, self-regulation would be difficult, if not impossible. The way people monitor themselves is typically summarized as a feedback loop (see ● Figure 4.3), and it is easy to remember the acronym TOTE, which stands for Test, Operate, Test, and Exit (Carver & Scheier, 1981, 1982). The first test is a comparison of self against the standard. For example, if you have resolved to be nicer to your romantic partner, you may occasionally stop to consider how nice you have been toward that person today. If the test reveals a discrepancy—that is, you are not being as nice as you would like—then you move along to the “operate” phase, in which you exert conscious control to change yourself to become nicer. For example, you might remind yourself to say nice things, or perhaps purchase a small gift to express your appreciation to your partner. At some point in the “operate” phase, the person may test the self again. Am I being nice enough now? If the answer is no, then more operations (more changes to the self) are required. Eventually, perhaps, the answer is “yes,” indicating that the person has met the standard, and at this point the person can complete the loop by exiting it. The concept of feedback loops was borrowed from cybernetic theory, developed during and after World War II to help guide missiles toward their targets despite winds and other difficulties (Powers, 1973). Its most familiar illustration is the thermostat that helps regulate the temperature in a room: The test involves evaluating whether the current temperature is close to the level the owner set, the “operate” phase involves turning on the heater or air conditioning unit, and when another test reveals that the temperature has reached the desired level, the heater or air conditioner is shut off and the loop is exited. Monitoring is a key ingredient in self-regulation and often presents the best opportunity for immediate improvement in self-regulation. If you want to keep to an exercise program, write on the calendar each day whether you had a workout. If you want to save money, make a list of what you spend your money on each day, and keep closer track of how much you earn and how much you save. Dieting furnishes a good example of the importance of monitoring. If you are not dieting, you likely pay little or no attention to how much you eat—you may simply eat your fill. Dieters, in contrast, soon begin to keep a close watch on how much they eat and how fattening these foods are (hence the familiar expression “counting calories”). When dieters eat in settings that undermine monitoring, they eat more. In particular, eating while watching television has long been known to lead to eating more, mainly because people focus their attention on the television program and not on monitoring their food intake (Leon & Chamberlain, 1973). Likewise, people overeat at parties, where their attention is focused on the other people and activities rather than on how much they eat (Logue, 1991). An important study linked eating binges to failures at monitoring (Polivy, 1976). For this purpose, some dieters were induced to break their diet for the day of the


Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action

capacity for change the active phase of self-regulation; willpower

experiment, while other dieters kept on their diets. Then both groups, plus a sample of nondieters, ate a snack of as many tiny sandwiches as they wanted. Afterward, the researchers asked everyone to estimate how much she or he had eaten. The nondieters were pretty accurate, as were the dieters whose diets had been intact. But the dieters who had broken their diets made wildly inaccurate estimates of how many tiny sandwiches they had consumed. Apparently once their diet was broken, they stopped keeping track, which then enabled them to eat a great deal without realizing it. Many factors interfere with monitoring and thereby undermine self-regulation, including emotional distress and being distracted, but probably the most widely recognized and important is alcohol intoxication. One effect of alcohol, even at mild doses, is to reduce attention to self (Hull, 1981), and as we have already seen, without monitoring (attending to) yourself, it is very difficult to self-regulate effectively. Hence people who have consumed alcohol tend to be worse at self-regulating in almost every sphere of behavior that has been studied, including eating more, being more aggressive and violent, spending more money, smoking more cigarettes—and, yes, drinking alcohol even leads to drinking more alcohol when drinkers stop keeping track of how much they drink (Abraham & Beumont, 1982; Ashton & Stepney, 1982; Baumeister et al., 1994; Bushman & Cooper, 1990; Steele & Southwick, 1985). The third ingredient of self-regulation is the capacity for change. This refers to what goes on in the “operate” phase, during which people actually carry out the changes to their states or responses so as to bring them into line with the standards. This capacity corresponds to the popular notion of “willpower,” and in fact it does seem to operate like a strength or energy. One aspect of willpower is that it can become depleted when people use it. In one study (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998), participants arrived having skipped a meal, so most were hungry. The researchers baked fresh chocolate chip cookies in the laboratory, using a microwave oven that filled the room with a delicious and tempting aroma. Each participant was seated at a table in front of a stack of these cookies and other chocolates, as well as a bowl of radishes. In the important condition, the experimenter told each participant “You have been assigned to the radish condition,” which meant eating only radishes. The experimenter then left the participant alone for 5 minutes to eat. This task required considerable willpower to resist the tempting chocolates and cookies and eat only the radishes as instructed. In other conditions, participants were permitted to eat cookies and chocolate instead of radishes, or no food was present at all. After this, the participants were set to work on some difficult (actually unsolvable) problems, and the researchers measured how long people kept trying before they gave up, because willpower is also needed to keep trying when you feel discouraged and want to quit. Consistent with the theory that willpower gets used up, the participants in the radish condition quit sooner than participants in the other two conditions. Thus, resisting temptation (in the form of chocolates and cookies) used up some willpower, so those participants had less left over to help them keep working on the frustrating puzzles. A more appealing interpretation of the results of that study would be that eating chocolate made people stronger and more effective. Unfortunately for that view, the participants who ate chocolate were no different from the control participants who ate nothing at all. It was resisting temptation, rather than indulging in chocolate, that was responsible for the experimental results (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, et al., 1998). Thus, willpower can be important for regulating one’s eating; in fact, dieting is one of the most common behaviors that depends on self-regulation. To learn more about self-regulation in dieting, see Food for Thought. Dozens of studies have shown the pattern of willpower depletion. Some of these have been done to rule out alternative explanations, such as the possibility that the participants in the radish condition were frustrated or angry and therefore did not want to cooperate with the experimenter or just wanted to leave the experiment as fast as possible. In one study using the omission bias (see earlier in this chapter), participants watched a boring movie for as long as they chose, but for some participants



Food for Thought Many people, though hardly any other animals, seek to control and restrain their eating and will therefore refrain from eating some tempting food even when it is readily available to them. Partly this reflects the progress of culture at providing food. Like most other animals, humans evolved under conditions of periodic scarcities of food, and so nature designed us to keep and store food as much as possible. Now that much of the world lives amid ample available food, the body’s natural tendency to store fat has turned from a life-saving asset to a life-endangering liability. In 2003, experts calculated that for the first time, more humans worldwide suffer from obesity than are in danger of starving. The problem is too much food, not too little. Dieting—restricting one’s food intake—is the standard response, but it requires self-regulation in order to override the natural desire to eat. To understand dieting as selfregulation, we suggest you imagine yourself starting on a diet. What can self-regulation theory tell you about how to succeed? Consider the three main ingredients of self-regulation. The first is a commitment to standards. A standard would be your goal in terms of weight (or perhaps body measurements such as waist size, or even percentage of body fat). It is helpful to have a realistic idea of what you should weigh. This is a high-level goal that may preside over the whole dieting process (which may take months). It is helpful to set lowerlevel goals, such as losing a pound or two each week. Many dieters also find it helpful to set standards for food intake, such as not eating more than 1500 calories per day. The second ingredient is monitoring. This means keeping track of what you eat, how many calories you consume, and perhaps how much you weigh. External monitoring helps: Rather than relying on memory, keep a journal or diary that records what you eat each day, and perhaps also record your weight each week. If you don’t keep track, you are not likely to succeed. Research shows that when dieters break their diets, they often stop keeping track and hence

Reprinted by permission of Atlantic Feature Syndicate.

Dieting as Self-Regulation

lose any sense of how much they are eating. This can produce an eating binge: You know you are eating too much, but you don’t really know how much. The importance of monitoring means that it is important to eat under circumstances in which keeping track of food is possible. Dieters should avoid eating while watching television, for example, because they focus on the program and lose track of how much they consume. The third ingredient is willpower, or the capacity for change. The self ’s strength is used for many different activities, and it can be depleted if there are many other demands. An ideal time for dieting includes low stress or pressure, stable relationships, and few demands for major decisions. When your willpower has been depleted by coping with stress, making hard decisions, resisting temptation, or other efforts to change the self, you will have less strength available for effective dieting.

the default option was to quit early (they had to keep pressing a button to keep watching more of the movie), whereas for others the default was to keep watching (they had to press a button to make it stop). Participants whose willpower had been depleted by a prior self-regulation task showed a stronger omission bias, which meant they went with the default option to a great extent than participants who had not had their willpower depleted (Baumeister et al., 1998). Thus, depletion made some participants sit that much longer in a boring movie, which is directly opposite of the theory that the radish task or other self-regulation exercises make people want to leave the experiment as fast as possible. Other studies have shown that fatigue, emotion, or attitudes about the experiment cannot account for the willpower depletion effects.


Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action

How does one acquire or increase willpower? There is some evidence that willpower resembles a muscle (Baumeister, 2002): Regular exercise makes you stronger, even though the muscle is temporarily “tired” after a workout. When people perform regular self-control exercises, they show gradual improvements in their capacity for self-control, even on novel tasks. Such exercises may include trying to improve your posture, keeping track of what you eat, trying to speak in complete sentences, and using your nondominant hand (your left hand if you’re right-handed) to brush your teeth or open doors. Over the long run, these exercises will strengthen your capacity for self-regulation. Just don’t perform them right before you are going to need your willpower, because that would be like lifting weights just before you have to carry furniture.

Quiz Yourself



Self-regulation is most similar to which of the following concepts? (a) Self-awareness (b) Self-consciousness (c) Self-control (d) Self-esteem


Which common household device best illustrates a feedback loop? (a) Dishwasher (b) Thermostat (c) Toilet (d) Vacuum


Which of the following refers to a concept or idea of how things could be? (a) Capacity for change (b) Self-consciousness (c) Self-monitoring (d) Standards


What body part does willpower most resemble? (a) Bone (b) Eye (c) Muscle (d) Stomach Answers: 1=c ,2=d, 3=b, 4=c

Irrationality and Self-Destruction Self-Defeating Acts: Being Your Own Worst Enemy

self-defeating behavior any action by which people bring failure, suffering, or misfortune on themselves

“She has self-destructive tendencies.” “The other team didn’t beat us, we beat ourselves.” “I think he has some kind of death wish.” How often have you heard such expressions? They refer to the common belief that people sometimes do things to bring failure, suffering, or misfortune upon themselves. The psychological term for such actions is self-defeating behavior. In everyday language, when people say what someone did was “stupid,” they usually mean that it was self-defeating. The “stupid” actions are those that (foreseeably) bring about some result contrary to what the person sought. Self-defeating behavior is paradoxical. Why would self-destructive behavior persist, or exist in the first place? If rational behavior means doing what serves one’s enlightened self-interest, how could rational beings do things that are harmful or detrimental to the self? Self-defeating behavior seems to be irrational in the extreme. There is no denying that people do plenty of self-defeating things. Many smoke cigarettes, thereby giving themselves lung cancer and other diseases. They eat unhealthy foods, thereby shortening their lives. They engage in risky sex, thereby increasing their chances of getting diseases or creating an unwanted pregnancy. They waste their money or gamble it away. They fail to take their medicine or follow physicians’ orders, thereby preventing themselves from regaining health. The list goes on and on. Self-defeating behavior has long held a fascination for psychologists, because it seems paradoxical. Most theories assume that psychological processes are designed to increase safety, security, and happiness, and ultimately to increase survival and reproduction. Self-defeating behavior is the opposite. It challenges psychological theory to explain how self-defeating behavior can be reconciled to the general assumption that people behave in adaptive, rational, self-benefiting ways. Many theories have been

© David Young-Wolff/PhotoEdit

Irrationality and Self-Destruction

Many self-defeating behaviors trade off long-term costs for short-term pleasures or benefits.


proposed, including Freud’s (1920/1964) famous conclusion that people have an innate “death drive” that impels them to pursue their own downfall and death. A more recent version of this theory holds that many people, especially women, suffer from a “fear of success.” The fear of success theory was proposed by Matina Horner (1972), herself the president of one of the most prestigious women’s colleges (Radcliffe), who said that many young women believed that if they became too successful in their work they would end up lonely, rejected, and unable to find romantic partners. Because of this fear of success, she theorized, many women sabotage or at least curtail their careers. After many decades of research, social psychologists have begun to establish the main facts about self-defeating behavior. A first conclusion is that people almost never directly seek failure, suffering, or misfortune. Freud’s theory of a death drive is apparently wrong. People may perform self-destructive acts, but they do not do them out of self-destructive intentions. Likewise, carefully controlled studies have discredited the “fear of success” theory (Hyland, 1989). There is no sign that either men or women ever deliberately sabotage their careers or their work because they consciously (or unconsciously) fear what success will mean for them. Instead, there appear to be two main reasons for self-defeating behavior. One of these involves tradeoffs: Sometimes good and bad outcomes are linked, and in order to get the desired, good outcome people accept the bad one too. The example of cigarette smoking illustrates this pattern. Yes, smoking causes cancer and other diseases, but hardly anyone decides to smoke in order to get cancer. People smoke for the pleasures and rewards of smoking, including the immediate and pleasant sensations caused by nicotine, and possibly the benefits of impressing others that one is sexy, cool, or mature. They accept some increased risk of lung cancer in order to reap the benefits. A vivid self-defeating tradeoff was covered in Chapter 3 in Tradeoffs: SelfHandicapping. In self-handicapping, you will recall, people create obstacles to their own performance so as to furnish themselves with an excuse for possible failure. The self-handicapper thus sacrifices real chances at success in exchange for protection from the implications of failure (Jones & Berglas, 1978). If you are drunk when taking a test, you will likely perform worse than if you were sober—but you are safe from being proven to be incompetent, because even if you perform badly on the test, people will attribute the failure to the alcohol rather than to low ability. Self-defeating tradeoffs are especially likely when the reward is immediate and the cost is delayed. We noted in Chapter 2 that this was one common kind of tradeoff (now versus the future). Cigarettes offer immediate pleasure, whereas the cancer and death they may bring lie in the distant future. Many self-defeating acts have this characteristic of sacrificing the future for the sake of the present. Regarding the capacity to give up immediate pleasures for the sake of long-term or delayed benefits, see Tradeoffs. The second pathway to self-defeating behavior involves faulty knowledge and a reliance on strategies that don’t work. As with tradeoffs, the person is usually pursuing something positive and good, but the self-defeater chooses a strategy that backfires. Often people do not adequately understand what is effective in the world, either because they do not understand the world or they do not understand themselves correctly. For example, some people procrastinate because they believe that “I do my best work under pressure” (Ferrari, Johnson, & McCown, 1995), that work left till the last minute will actually end up being better. This is generally false: Leaving things until the last minute generally makes it harder to do an adequate job, and procrastinators end up getting lower grades than others. Thus, they think that putting things off will help them do better work, but actually it makes them do poorer work (Tice & Baumeister, 1997). In fact, when people are tested under identical laboratory conditions, chronic procrastinators perform worse than others, not better (Ferrari, 2001). In short, the claim that “I do my best work under pressure” is a false rationalization for almost everyone, and it is particularly false for procrastinators.


Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action

Tradeoffs Now Versus Tomorrow: Delay of Gratification Some people spend their money on current fun rather than save for a rainy day. Some people skimp on medical or dental care when they would rather do other things. Some people pursue sexual pleasure without worrying about future consequences. In these and other ways, people come to grief. What these self-defeating behaviors have in common is emphasizing the present rather than the future. In contrast, human beings thrive and prosper best when they can sacrifice some short-term rewards for the sake of a better future. The ability to make those immediate sacrifices for later rewards is called the capacity to delay gratification. During the 1960s, Walter Mischel and his colleagues developed a clever laboratory method for testing children’s capacity to delay gratification (Mischel, 1996; Mischel & Mendoza-Denton, 2002). Each child would be shown some treat, such as a cookie or a marshmallow. The experimenter would explain to each child that the experimenter was going to leave the room but the child could summon him or her back by ringing a bell on the table. As soon as the child did this, the child would receive the treat. However, if the child could refrain from ringing the bell and just wait until the adult returned, the child would get a bigger reward (e.g., three cookies instead of one). Some children were able to wait and get the larger reward; others succumbed to temptation and rang the bell. Mischel’s task is a classic tradeoff dilemma: whether to take the sooner smaller reward or wait for the larger later one. As we have seen elsewhere in this book, many tradeoffs involve time, especially pitting something right now versus something in the future. Research using this “delay of gratification” measure has provided the foundations for what we now know about self-regulation, as well as shedding valuable light on self-defeating behavior.

capacity to delay gratification the ability to make immediate sacrifices for later rewards

Seeing either the large or the small reward undermined the capacity to hold out. Apparently, seeing what you want stimulates greater desire for it. Temptation is best resisted by avoiding the sight or thought of it. Many of the children sitting in the room with the bell and the marshmallows came up with this strategy themselves: They would cover their eyes so as not to see the rewards (and be tempted by them), sing, turn around, make up little games, or even take a nap during the waiting period. Even going to college is an exercise in delay of gratification. Most college students could earn more money, live in a nicer apartment, eat better food, and get a better car and clothes if they dropped out and got a job. College often requires living near the poverty line for several years. But its long-term payoffs are immense: Getting a college degree increases one’s lifetime earnings by an average of almost a million dollars, as we saw in Chapter 2 (● Figure 2.1). The benefits of being able to delay gratification also emerged in Mischel’s subsequent research. He followed up many of the children years after they had participated in his experiments. Very few psychological traits seem to remain stable from early childhood into adulthood, and fewer yet have been shown to predict success or failure in life. The children who were good at delaying gratification when they were just 4 years old, however, grew into adults who were more popular with friends and family and more successful in universities and jobs than those who had not been able to resist taking the quick marshmallow in his lab (Mischel et al., 1998; Shoda et al., 1990). Thus, as they moved through life, being able to resist the impulse to take the immediate payoff really did seem to bring them greater rewards in the long run!

Suicide Suicide has fascinated psychologists and other social scientists for more than a century. At first blush, suicide is the extreme of irrational, self-destructive behavior, because it brings a permanent end to the person’s chances for happiness or success. People who believe that humans are created by a divine power generally regard suicide as a major sin because it thwarts their god’s wishes. People who believe in evolution cannot understand how natural selection would produce an impulse to end one’s own life, because it goes against the most basic urges toward survival and reproduction. (At most, they might think that sacrificing oneself for one’s children might make biological sense, but that would only explain a tiny minority of suicides.) Suicide is essentially unknown among nonhuman animals. Basically, humans are the only creatures who deliberately kill themselves, and many millions have done so (Joiner, 2005). How can this be explained?

Irrationality and Self-Destruction


Suicide often involves a tradeoff, which as we have seen is one major pathway to self-destructive behavior. Indeed, it often fits the now-versus-future pattern that we have seen is a common tradeoff in human decision making. Suicidal people are often in life circumstances that are acutely unpleasant to them, and their overriding wish is to escape from their emotional distress and feelings of personal worthlessness. They feel miserable and want those feelings to stop. To them, death may seem appealing, not as punishment or violence or suffering (as some theories have proposed) but simply as oblivion. They believe that death will bring peace and an end to their distress and suffering, which looks like an improvement to them. They are willing to trade away their future and all its potential joys in order to gain this immediate relief. Suicide starts with some discrepancy between expectations (or other standards) and reality. Ironically, suicide rates are often highest in favorable circumstances, such as in rich countries, in places with good climates, or during the fine months of late spring and summer. To be miserable when all around you life seems great for everyone else can be deeply disturbing. Often the suicidal process is set in motion by a significant change for the worse, so that the present seems to fall short of what one has come to expect. For example, rich and poor people commit suicide at about the same rates, but changing from rich to poor produces a big increase in suicide rates. Put another way, suicide does not result from being poor all your life but rather from becoming poor when you are accustomed to being better off. Suicidal college students actually have higher grade point averages than other students— except in their most recent semester, when their grades dipped below average, which probably made them feel that they were falling below what they had come to expect of themselves. Suicidal college students often have parents who expect them to perform well, and the students sometimes feel they cannot meet their parents’ expectations (Davis, 1983; Farberow, 1975; Hendin, 1982; Maris, 1969, 1981; Rothberg & Jones, 1987). Self-awareness is high among suicidal people; indeed, the human capacity for selfawareness may help explain why nonhuman animals do not kill themselves. In the section on self-awareness in Chapter 3, we saw that people sometimes seek to escape from self-awareness when contemplating the self is unpleasant. Suicidal people have often reached this point where self-awareness is acutely painful, and the attempt at suicide may be a desperate, extreme effort to stop ruminating about themselves (Baumeister, 1990b). In the weeks leading up to a suicide attempt, the person is typically full of thoughts of being a failure, a worthless person, and an immoral individual. Many suicidal individuals are acutely aware of being a burden to others, and they hate that feeling. Some feel cut off from others, and this too is profoundly upsetting. You might think that suicidal people would be full of emotional distress, such as anxiety, regret, and guilt, but most studies have found the opposite: Suicidal people tend to be emotionally numb. Apparently, their problems are so upsetting that they respond by shutting down emotionally. They try to avoid thinking about the future or the past, and avoid all sorts of abstract, meaningful, or emotional material, focusing instead on the concrete here and now. In the movies, suicide notes are often philosophical: “I’ve had a good run, but I don’t find my life worth living any further; please teach my son to be a good man.” In reality, suicide notes tend to be mundane and concrete, such as “I paid the electric bill; tell Fred he can have my CDs” (Gottsehalk & Gleser, 1960; Hendin, 1982; Henken, 1976; Shneidman, 1981). This shift to low levels of meaning as a way of escaping emotion is consistent with what we saw earlier in this chapter, in the discussion of action identification. The human mind cannot easily stop thinking meaningfully, and these unfortunate people find that they cannot really keep their thoughts and feelings at bay. Suicide starts to look appealing because it is a way to put an end to the distressing thoughts about how bad the self is. Although suicide trades away one’s future for the sake of relief in the here and now, the suicidal person often does not reflect on that, because he or she is narrowly focused on the present and not thinking about the future. It is not so


Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action

much a rejection of one’s entire life as an attempt to escape from this week’s numbing misery. If you are ever confronted with a friend or relative who is suicidal, besides getting professional help, one emphasis should be to help that person refocus on longterm goals and the pleasures and fulfillments that can still be found in the distant future, regardless of how miserable the foreseeable future may seem. No single theory can account for all suicides. The desire to escape from misery may be the most common, but there are other pathways to suicide. Chapter 3 opened with the story of the Hungarian count who defied the powerful sultan and died in a suicidal charge. In that story, at least according to unverifiable legend, the young bride of one of the Christian defenders committed suicide by throwing a torch into the weapons stock, killing herself along with several thousand Turkish soldiers. She gave her own life for the sake of the cause in which she believed. In the same manner, this chapter opened with the story of a female terrorist who was prepared to give her own life, and nearly had to do so, in order to destroy a plane full of South Korean tourists. She believed, falsely as it turned out, that killing those people would prevent South Korea from holding the Olympics and would lead to the reunification of her country. As this book is written, suicide bombers fill the news. The most dramatic were the Arabs who hijacked several airline flights and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in September 2001. The third plane crashed into a field. Since then, numerous suicide bombers have given their lives to kill other people in various countries in the Middle East and occasionally elsewhere. These people sacrifice their lives to advance a cause, not to escape from a personal hell. Such selfsacrifice represents a commitment to cultural meanings that can override the basic biological drives toward survival and reproduction. Even if one regards them as misguided, futile, or evil, they show how cultural meanings can override biological impulses and cause people to put cultural goals above their own self-interest. Only cultural animals become suicide bombers.

Quiz Yourself

Irrationality and Self-Destruction


In lay terms, self-defeating behavior is defined as _____ behavior. (a) experimental (b) intelligent (c) stupid (d) taboo


What creatures intentionally kill themselves (i.e., commit suicide)? (a) Chimps (b) Gorillas (c) Humans (d) All of the above


The two main reasons for self-defeating behavior are _____. (a) death drive; fear of failure (b) faulty knowledge; tradeoffs (c) fear of failure; tradeoffs (d) faulty knowledge; fear of failure


Suicidal people are _____. (a) low in self-awareness (b) high in self-awareness (c) high in emotional distress (d) focused on future consequences

Answers: 1=c, 2=b, 3=c, 4=b

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective


ehavior is found in all animals, all the time. What sets humans apart (among other things that will be discussed in other chapters) is an elaborate inner system for controlling behavior. The use of meaning allows human beings to make choices in novel ways and to link their here-and-now actions to far distant realities.

Chapter Summary


Only humans vote in elections, pay taxes, hold wedding ceremonies, make blueprints for the buildings they construct, resort to judges and lawsuits to resolve disputes, create and attend schools and colleges, pray, plan their battles, or celebrate events that occurred before they were born. Animals have sex, but only humans distinguish between meaningless and meaningful sexual relationships. Animals play, but only humans keep score, have referees, and distinguish between meaningful and meaningless games (as in whether the game has playoff implications). Animals may have a limited understanding of what is happening now, but only humans seem to process multiple levels of meaning for the same action and to shift among these levels. Meaning allows people to pursue goals that may lie years in the future. Thus, human action is not just a here-and-now response but is often designed to help bring about something far off, such as graduation or marriage or retirement. It can also be linked to things that have happened elsewhere or long ago, such as when people celebrate Independence Day or a religious holiday. Moreover, people often follow abstract rules made in distant places by people they will never meet. Most Americans pay income tax, for example, though few have any direct contact with the people who make the tax laws. Consciousness enables people to use complex reasoning processes to make their decisions. They can think about multiple options and do cost–benefit analyses to decide what would be the best course of action. Self-regulation is not uniquely human, but it seems far better developed among humans than among other species. Our capacity for self-control makes many aspects of human culture possible, because it enables us to change ourselves. We can adjust to new norms and opportunities, to changing fads and fashions, to religious doctrines, to new roles and rules. Self-regulation is the key to morality and virtuous behavior, for without the ability to alter one’s actions based on general rules, there would be no point in having moral rules. Humans also use self-regulation in ways that other animals don’t, ranging from how football players abruptly stop trying to knock their opponents down when the ball goes out of bounds, to instances of people passing up delicious and available food just because they are on a diet. The capacity for self-directed action has its dark side—namely, irrationality. Just as people are capable of altering their behavior on the basis of rational, enlightened plans, they are also capable of altering it to follow foolish and even self-destructive plans. The brilliance of human innovation is one of the wonders of the world, but humans have also done stupid and costly things on a scale that no other creatures can match. Humans are also alone in the animal kingdom in the occasional willingness of individuals to commit suicide. Despite these occasional problems and misfortunes, however, human behavior is remarkably special. Perhaps the single greatest advance is freedom: By using meaningful thought, reasoning, and self-regulation, people have been able to free their actions from simply responding to their immediate surroundings. People have choices and make choices, and although choosing is sometimes stressful, people generally benefit from this freedom. When people rise up in revolutions or demonstrations, it is almost always to demand greater freedom, not less freedom. The spread of democracy and liberty thus continues in culture what nature and evolution began— namely, progress toward giving individuals greater freedom.

Chapter Summary What You Do, and What It Means ●

● ●

Behavior doesn’t automatically or inevitably follow internal processes such as thoughts and feelings. Human behavior depends on meaning. Inner processes such as thoughts, feelings, and motivations serve interpersonal functions.

● ●

Imagining something makes it more likely to happen. Behavior can be described at many different levels of meaning—for example, from moving a pen to writing a Pulitzer Prize–winning book. People can think of their traits as fixed and stable (entity theorists) or as subject to change and improvement (incremental theorists).


Chapter 4: Behavior Control: The Self in Action

Goals are ideas of some desired future state and are the meaningful link between values and action. Goals tell you what to do in order to pursue and uphold your values, and setting and pursuing goals is a vital job of the self. Setting goals includes choosing among possible goals and evaluating their feasibility and desirability. Pursuing goals includes planning and carrying out the behaviors to reach goals. Both conscious and automatic systems help in the pursuit of goals. People have goal hierarchies; some goals are long term and some are short term. People’s plans tend to be overly optimistic, especially over a long time span.

Self-Regulation ●

Freedom and Choice ●

People often don’t realize how much they influence others’ behavior. Self-determination theory emphasizes that people need to feel that some of their behavior is caused by their own free will. The panic button effect refers to the finding that believing there is an escape option can reduce stress, even if the option is never used. Making a choice is typically a two-step process, involving whittling many choices down to a few and then doing a careful comparison of those few. Risk aversion refers to the finding that people are more affected by possible losses than by possible gains. Temporal discounting refers to the finding that the present is more important than the future in decision making. The farther in the future something lies, the less influence it has on the decision. In an evolutionary perspective, the most costly type of sexual error for a woman was to reproduce with a nonoptimal male, while the most costly sexual error for a man was to miss an opportunity to have sex and thus possibly to reproduce. The certainty effect refers to the tendency to place more emphasis on definite outcomes than on odds and probabilities. People may prefer to postpone hard decisions and keep their options open as long as possible. The status quo bias is a preference to keep things the way they are rather than change.

The omission bias (sometimes called the default option) denotes taking whatever course of action does not require you to do anything. Inaction inertia means that if a person has failed to act on a previous opportunity, he or she is all the more likely to fail to act on the next opportunity. Reactance occurs when a freedom or choice is removed, making the person want the lost option more and perhaps take steps to reclaim it.

Self-regulation or self-control refers to the self ’s capacity to alter its own responses. It is essential for cultural animals to adapt to many different demands. The three components of self-regulation are standards (concepts of how things should be), monitoring (keeping track of behaviors), and willpower/capacity for change (bringing behavior into line with standards). The TOTE model refers to the self-regulation feedback loop of Test, Operate, Test, Exit. Willpower is like a muscle, getting depleted after it is used, but getting stronger with exercise.

Irrationality and Self-Destruction ●

Self-defeating behavior is defined as any action by which people bring failure, suffering, or misfortune on themselves. People engage in self-defeating behavior because they are making tradeoffs or because they are using ineffective strategies, but not usually because they were directly seeking failure. The capacity to delay gratification is the ability to make short-term sacrifices in order to get long-term rewards. Suicidal people focus on the immediate present at a time when present circumstances may be changing for the worse.

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective ●

Cultural animals differ from other animals in their elaborate inner systems for controlling behavior.

Chapter Summary


> Key Terms Capacity for change 134 Capacity to delay gratification 138 Certainty effect 129 Entity theorists 120 Error management theory 130 Goal 120 Incremental theorists 120

Learned helplessness 120 Monitoring 133 Omission bias 130 Panic button effect 127 Planning fallacy 124 Reactance theory 131 Risk aversion 128

Self-defeating behavior 136 Self-determination theory 126 Self-regulation 132 Status quo bias 129 Temporal discounting 129 TOTE 133 Zeigarnik effect 122

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Social Cognition What Is Social Cognition? Thinking About People: A Special Case? Why People Think, and Why They Don’t

Errors and Biases Confirmation Bias

The Social Side of Sex: Counting Sex Partners Conjunction Fallacy

Goals of Thinking

Illusory Correlation

Automatic and Controlled Thinking

Base Rate Fallacy

Thought Suppression and Ironic Processes

Gambler’s Fallacy

Food for Thought: It’s the Thought That Counts (or Doesn’t Count!) the Calories Attributions: Why Did That Happen?

False Consensus Effect False Uniqueness Effect Statistical Regression Illusion of Control

It’s Not My Fault: Explaining Success and Failure

Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Good News and Bad News

You Looking at Me? The Actor/Observer Bias

Magical Thinking

The Attribution Cube and Making Excuses Heuristics: Mental Shortcuts Representativeness Heuristic Availability Heuristic Simulation Heuristic

Counterfactual Thinking Are People Really Idiots? How Serious Are the Errors? Reducing Cognitive Errors

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective Chapter Summary



Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

© Spencer Grant/PhotoEdit

c Carolyn Briggs, author of This Dark World, converted into and then out of Christian fundamentalism.

arolyn Briggs grew up in a small Midwestern town. She was small and shy. In high school she got a boyfriend named Eric, they fell into a pattern of getting drunk together on dates, and this combination of fun, intimacy, and rebellion led her to start having sex with him. He was in a rock band that he believed would someday make him a star, and she would travel with the band to their gigs, listen, watch, and sometimes dance. They enjoyed making fun of people, such as the socalled Jesus Freaks who would sometimes attend the concerts and try to convert the fans to their Christian beliefs. When Carolyn got pregnant, Eric married her, even though this meant downplaying the rock band and taking a hard, low-paying job in a factory. They lived in a trailer park. Money was tight, and sex was rare and boring. When some of her high school friends visited and talked about taking Christ into their lives, Carolyn was no longer so quick to dismiss them. They seemed happy. She talked about this with her husband, and somewhat to her surprise he seemed interested. They bought a paperback modern version of the Bible at a supermarket, even though the cost of $12 seemed very high and she was embarrassed to have the salesgirl see her buying a Bible. They started reading the Bible together each night. Sometimes Eric got tears in his eyes as he read, and Carolyn loved this. This was the beginning of a deep involvement in fundamentalist Christian religion that was the center of her life for about 20 years, until she changed her views and rejected much of this faith and lifestyle, as she describes in her memoir This Dark World. At first the new life was enthralling. She stopped swearing and drinking almost overnight. She and her husband spoke about little except their baby and God. He quit the rock band for good and instead began playing Christian music with church groups. She reinterpreted her earlier life as one of sin and confusion, but she also found signs of salvation: Once when she was a child her family had nearly died from a carbon monoxide leak, but they were saved by a neighbor who broke down the door. This seemed now to her to have been a sign that Jesus would eventually break down her barriers and save her soul. One night not long after her conversion there was a tornado warning, but she and her husband agreed that God would take care of them. It is very dangerous to stay in a trailer during a tornado, yet they stayed home and made popcorn instead of heading for a basement shelter. They told themselves it was their duty to live by faith instead of by human understanding. When other trailers in their park were blown over while theirs remained anchored (though it did move off its foundation), they felt their faith had been vindicated because God had indeed saved them. When Eric started to make a little more money, they spent it heavily on religious activities. They began to order Bibles by the hundreds and pass them out wherever they could, tossing them to hitchhikers or leaving them with the tip at restaurants. They sought out the most passionate, fundamentalist churches to join, and they openly scorned the faith and practice of “ordinary” Christians as laughably inadequate. (Later, Carolyn looked back on these sentiments as a mixture of pride, selfdeception, and rationalization.) She was filled with love for Christ and for the small circle of intense believers among her friends. This was matched by hatred for others outside the circle. “Not only did we hate abortion, we hated homosexuality, we hated Hollywood, we hated the politics of the left. We hated. We hated” (p. 263). When her daughter was 14, Carolyn tried to make her swear she would remain a virgin until her wedding day. After a struggle, the girl gave in and promised she would. Afterward Carolyn felt guilty and cried. At times Carolyn struggled with doubts, but she consciously decided not to dwell on inconsistencies in the religious teachings, and she rebuked herself for a lack of faith. Sometimes the idea of living by religious beliefs struck her as absurd. To cement her faith, she burned all their nonreligious music albums and some books in the backyard. She struggled with the loss of sexual desire for her husband, who had never made love to any other woman and still considered marital intercourse to

What Is Social Cognition?


be a gift from God, while Carolyn herself wished in vain for some religious authority or power to offer her an escape. Then, when she was almost 40, she went to graduate school. In her new environment, the religious life she had led began to seem misguided. She told her husband she wanted to move out, and he tearfully begged her to stay and promised to love her until he died. She left anyway. She wavered at times and thought she should go back to God and family, but ultimately she couldn’t. Carolyn’s story shows the remarkable power and flexibility of human thought. In her adult life she converted into and then out of an overwhelmingly powerful system of belief that shaped how she understood her life. It guided the choices she made and the emotions she felt. It drastically changed the intimate relationship she had with God, her husband, and her children. In spite of all of its power, no objective events can prove the truth or falsehood of religious belief. How can someone believe so intensely and then reject those same beliefs, especially without objective events to illuminate the way the world is? One partial answer is that cognition is linked to the social and cultural world, and so people’s beliefs are shaped by those around them. But this answer is not quite complete. The story also illustrates some of the cognitive biases and errors that people can make. In this chapter, we will examine many of the processes of social cognition, which involve how people think about the events of their lives.

What Is Social Cognition?

social cognition a movement in social psychology that began in the 1970s that focused on thoughts about people and about social relationships

The rise of social cognition in the 1970s marked a fundamental and sweeping change in how social psychologists studied people. Before the 1970s, social psychology was dominated by the doctrine of behaviorism, which held that in order to be scientific, psychologists should only study visible behavior and not make inferences about thoughts and feelings occurring inside the mind. Social psychologists began to realize, however, that it is impossible to understand people without examining how they think and feel. In the 1970s, social psychologists began to focus their studies on people’s thoughts and feelings. Methods and techniques were developed to allow the direct and indirect observation of mental processes so that these processes could be studied scientifically. Among the first mental processes that social psychologists studied were attitudes and the motivation to be consistent in one’s attitudes (see Chapter 7). The development of attribution theory in the 1960s and 1970s was one of the most important steps in the scientific study of thinking in social psychology. Attribution theory focuses on how people interpret the causes of events, such as external pressures versus internal traits. The term social cognition became widely used in the 1980s and encompassed a broad movement to study any sort of thinking by people about people and about social relationships (Fiske & Taylor, 1991).

Thinking About People: A Special Case? Social psychologists study how people think about people. Why this topic in particular? Might not other researchers study how people think about frogs, or household appliances, or money, or the weather? Cognitive psychologists might study these other topics, but social psychologists focus on people. Is there something special about thinking about people? In short, the answer is yes. People think about other people more than any other topic, and probably more than about all other topics combined (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). As a brief test, try turning on the television and scanning the channels. True, some shows are devoted to the physical world, such as those on Animal Planet or The


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

cognitive miser a term used to describe people’s reluctance to do much extra thinking

Discovery Channel. But most shows are about people and their relationships with others. The news may occasionally cover an earthquake or a tornado, but even footage of these natural disasters tends to emphasize how people are dealing with them. Most news is about people’s activities. The fact that people think a lot about other people is relevant to several of our themes, such as “people first” (see Chapter 2). Remember, one standard theory is that the human brain evolved for solving problems in the physical environment, such as how to make tools, find shelter, and obtain food. In reality, though, people spend relatively little time thinking about these things. Instead, people use their brains to think about each other, implying that humans evolved to rely on each other for information and help. The human mind is designed to participate in society, and this means its primary job is dealing with other people. Birds get their food from their environment; most humans get their food from other people. It would make sense that birds think mostly about trees and worms and predators, whereas people think mostly about other people. People think so much about people because it is necessary on the long road to social acceptance. We want to be included in social groups and relationships, but this takes a great deal of work. We need to think at great length about other people, in order to be accepted by them. This is an ongoing project and process. The emphasis on thinking about people shows that inner processes serve interpersonal functions, which is another theme of this book (see Chapter 2). Nature (evolution) gave us a powerful brain that can think elaborate thoughts, and this brain is used mainly for helping us relate to others. Thinking about other people is essential for social acceptance, relationship formation, and relationship maintenance. In addition, it is necessary for competing against others for our desired goals. You need to know your enemies and rivals almost as well as you know your friends and lovers.

Why People Think, and Why They Don’t ● Figure 5.1

Humans can do more and better thinking than any other animal on earth (Deacon, 1997; Heinz et al., 1988; Macphail, 1982). Human beings have a brain about the size of a large grapefruit—it weighs about 3 pounds. Although some other animals have larger brains for their body size (e.g., small birds), much of their brain mass is devoted to motor functions (e.g., flying). If one compares the size of the cortex (the part of the brain involved in higher-order functions such as thinking) to the rest of the body, humans are at the top of the list (see ● Figure 5.1). You might expect that because humans are well equipped to think, they would love to think and would spend all their free time doing it. This is certainly not the case. (If all thinking were fun, people would probably spend much of their free time doing math problems, but they don’t.) Researchers Elephant H. sapiens have found that often people seem lazy or Whale H. habilis Dolphin careless about their thinking. Social psycholoA. africanus gists use the term cognitive miser to describe Chimpanzee people’s reluctance to do much extra thinking Baboon (Fiske & Taylor, 1984, 1991). Just as a miser tries to avoid spending money, the cognitive Crow miser tries to avoid thinking too hard or too much. Of course, this isn’t entirely a matter of Alligator laziness. People’s capacity to think, although greater than that of most animals, is limited, and so people must conserve their thinking. There is ample evidence that when people’s capacity for thinking is already preoccupied, Goldfish they take even more shortcuts to reduce fur1 100 10,000 ther need for thought (e.g., Gilbert, Pelham, & Body mass (kilograms) Krull, 1988).

Brain mass (grams)



Bat 1


From “Cosmic Evolution-Epoch 7-Cultural Evolution.” Fig. 7.13 located at http://www.tufts .edu/as/wright_center/cosmic_evolution. Copyright © 2005 by Eric J. Chasisson, Wright Center for Science Education. Reprinted by permission.

A plot of brain mass versus body mass for a variety of animals. The open circles represent reptiles (including some fish and dinosaurs), the filled circles represent mammals (including many birds), and the x’s represent primates (including humans and their immediate ancestors).

What Is Social Cognition?


Reprinted by permission of Atlantic Feature Syndicate

Some people seem to be such numskulls that you wonder whether they forgot that they had a brain. In one recent case, a young man went into a liquor store, pointed a gun at the clerk, and demanded all the cash in the register. When the bag was full, he demanded a bottle of whiskey too. The clerk refused to give up the whiskey, saying that he thought the robber was underage. After a brief argument, the robber showed the clerk his driver’s license, thereby finally persuading the clerk to hand over the whiskey. Of course, the robber was arrested only two hours later, after the clerk called the police and gave them the robber’s name and address! Then again, people do think at great length about things that are interesting to them. The great genius Albert Einstein published an astonishing 258 articles during his lifetime, dealing with the most complicated issues in physics, and his thinking changed the way that scientists understand the world. Some people spend a great deal of effort thinking about their relationship partners (or how to get one). Some people think about particular events, such as the death of a loved one, for many years afterward, hoping to understand them. Some people think about baseball all the time and have a seemingly bottomless appetite for the latest game news, anecdotes, and statistics. Not all thinking is equally difficult. As the theory of the duplex mind indicates, conscious thinking requires a lot more effort than automatic thinking. People generally prefer to conserve effort by relying on automatic modes of thought when they can. Unfortunately, the automatic system is not very good at some kinds of thinking, such as logical reasoning and numerical analysis. Therefore, the automatic mind develops various shortcuts, which give rough estimates or pretty good answers. Sometimes, though, people do find it necessary to employ the full power of conscious thought and analysis.

Goals of Thinking Not all thinking is the same. At least three main types of goals guide how people think (e.g., Baumeister, 2005; Baumeister & Newman, 1994; Fiske & Taylor, 1984; Kruglanski, 1989). The first and most obvious goal is that people want to find the right answer to some problem or question. They want to know why something happened, what the best thing to do is, or what kind of person they are dealing with. Like a scientist or a judge, they seek the truth, whatever it may be. Sometimes, however, the truth is not the top priority. Instead, people may want to reach a particular, preferred conclusion. Thus, the second goal of thinking is to confirm the desired answer to a problem. Like lawyers, they want to make the best case for their side. For example, people may want to believe that they are smart and attractive, or that they are not responsible for some particular disaster. A third goal is to reach a pretty good answer or decision quickly. Sometimes time is pressing. When you go to the DVD store, you might get the best movie by looking carefully at every film on every shelf and consulting various reviews of each film, but this would take so long that you might not get home in time to watch it! Instead, you try to find a reasonably promising movie in a few minutes.

Automatic and Controlled Thinking

Stroop test a standard measure of effortful control over responses, requiring participants to identify the color of a word (which may name a different color)

Humans have a duplex mind, as this book has emphasized (see Chapter 2). Some thinking proceeds by automatic means, whereas other thinking relies on conscious control. To illustrate this point, try the Stroop test. In ● Figure 5.2, you see several rectangles containing different colors. Say the name of the color in each rectangle out loud as quickly as you can. Go one row at a time, from left to right. If you have a watch, time how long it takes you to do the test. In ● Figure 5.3, you see several words written in different ink colors. Say the name of the ink color for each word as quickly as you can, ignoring what the word says. Go one row at a time, from left to


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

● Figure 5.2

Stroop Test 1: Name the color of each rectangle out loud as quickly as you can.

● Figure 5.3

Stroop Test 2: Name the color of each word as quickly as you can, ignoring what the word says.

Stroop effect in the Stroop test, the finding that people have difficulty overriding the automatic tendency to read the word rather than name the ink color

● Figure 5.4

Stroop Test 3: As in Test 2, name the color of each word as quickly as you can, ignoring what the word says.





right. In ● Figure 5.4, do the same thing—say the ink color, ignoring what the word says. For example, if the word RED is printed in blue ink, you should say “Blue.” The Stroop effect was first described by James Ridley Stroop in 1935. If you are like most people, it took you longer if the word and ink color didn’t match (incongruent) than if they did match (congruent). In the incongruent test (when the word and ink color don’t match), the automatic response is to say the word rather than the ink color. It takes conscious effort to override the automatic response and say the ink color instead. One of your textbook authors tried the Stroop test on three children (ages 8, 7, and 3). The 3-year-old performed the third test better than anybody else. He said, “This is easy!” (Because he couldn’t read, he did not have to contend with the automatic response of the meaning of the printed word and therefore could just say the color of the ink.) How do we know whether some thought is automatic or controlled? There is no one single test, because there are several dimensions to automatic thought. Unfortunately, this makes the definitions of automatic versus controlled processes somewhat complicated, because some thought or response may fit one criterion but not the





What Is Social Cognition?

knowledge structures organized packets of information that are stored in memory

schemas knowledge structures that represent substantial information about a concept, its attributes, and its relationships to other concepts


others. Most phenomena are complex and exist on continuums rather than in black or white categories. The four elements that distinguish automatic from controlled processes are intention, control, effort, and efficiency (Bargh, 1994). Automatic thinking is not guided by intention: It may just happen whether you intend it to or not. (Indeed, as the Stroop effect shows, automatic thoughts can intrude on your thinking even when you intend to think something else.) Automatic thoughts are not subject to deliberate control, so it can be difficult or even impossible to avoid having certain thoughts that have been cued. Automatic thoughts do not involve effort, whereas controlled thoughts often involve mental exertion and can feel taxing and tiring. Last, automatic thoughts are highly efficient, unlike controlled thoughts (which are often slow and cumbersome). Automatic thinking involves little effort because it relies on knowledge structures. Knowledge structures are organized packets of information that are stored in memory. These knowledge structures form when a set of related concepts is frequently brought to mind, or activated. When people think about a concept, it becomes active in memory. Related concepts also become activated. Over time, as related concepts are frequently activated together, the set of related concepts becomes so strongly linked that activation of one part of the set automatically activates the whole set. Once activated, these knowledge structures simply run their course, like an airplane set on autopilot. The result is automatic thinking. Schemas. Schemas are knowledge structures that represent substantial information about a concept, its attributes, and its relationships to other concepts. The concept, for example, could be the self, another person, a social category (e.g., politicians), or an object. In the game of baseball, for example, there are schemas for different positions (e.g., power hitters, shortstops). Shortstops tend to be fast and agile, whereas power hitters tend to be big and strong. Chicago Cubs baseball player Ernie Banks has been described as: a good-to-excellent shortstop. . . . Certainly it is true that his batting statistics were helped by Wrigley Field. . . . But I think it is generally true that all power-hitting shortstops get a bad rap as defensive players. . . . they always seem to have better defensive statistics than reputations. . . .

MLB Photos via Getty Images

Ernie Banks

People think in terms of images; I do, you do, everybody does. That’s how we make sense of an overpowering world; we reduce impossibly complex and detailed realities to simple images that can be stored and recalled. People have trouble reconciling the image of the powerful hitter—the slow, strong muscleman with the uppercut—with the image of the shortstop, who is quick and agile. When confronted with incontrovertible evidence that a man is a slugger—no one really doubts the validity of batting statistics—there is a [discrepancy] with the idea that he was a good shortstop. The image of him as a shortstop, being not locked in place by a battery of statistics, gets pushed aside so it can accommodate the image of him as a slugger (James, 1986, p. 377). Baseball fans have schemas that help them think more simply about the game of baseball. And when two schemas disagree (e.g., a power hitter who is fast and agile), they tend to choose one schema and ignore the other. Otherwise, they have to change their schemas, which makes their world more complicated. Schemas make our complex world much easier to understand. One type of event that sparks conscious thinking is a violation of expectancies. In general, people seem to go through their daily lives with a solid idea of what is supposed to happen. When life conforms to what they expect, they don’t generally find it necessary to think much about it. When events depart sharply from what people have learned to expect, they may stop and analyze what happened. This is a very useful pattern. People develop an understanding of their social world, and their expectancies and schemas are part of this understanding. Schemas are developed through


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

2. Hostess seats person

3. Person pays for food

4. Person orders food from waiter

5. A person enters a restaurant

6. Person looks at menu

7. Person leaves restaurant

8. Person eats food

© Michael Newman/PhotoEdit (all frames)

1. Hostess greets person

Answer: The order of the frames is 5, 1, 2, 6, 4, 8, 3, 7

One example of a script is a restaurant script (Schank & Abelson, 1977). Try putting the frames above in the correct order. The answer is printed below the frames. The fact that you can do this illustrates that scripts exist.

scripts knowledge structures that define situations and guide behavior

your experiences, and they guide the way you process information. Getting through daily life is much easier if you have such an understanding. Events that violate your expectancies then show that something might be wrong with how you understand the world, so it is worth pausing to analyze what happened. In a disco, you ask someone to dance, and the person sometimes nods and accompanies you to the dance floor, or sometimes politely rejects you; all is as expected, with no need to analyze. But if your invitation to dance is met with a big laugh or a hurried departure, you might stop to wonder what went wrong: Are you not allowed to ask people to dance? Is there something wrong with the way you look? Do you smell bad? Scripts. Scripts are knowledge structures that contain information about how people (or other objects) behave under varying circumstances. In a sense, scripts are schemas about certain kinds of events. Scripts include many types of information such as motives, intentions, goals, situations that enable (or inhibit) certain behaviors, and the causal sequence of events, as well as the specific behaviors themselves. In films and plays, scripts tell actors what to say and do. In social psychology, scripts define situations and guide behavior: The person first selects a script to represent the situation and then assumes a role in the script. Scripts can be learned by direct experience or by observing others (e.g., parents, siblings, peers, mass media characters). People learn schemas and scripts that influence how they perceive, interpret, judge, and respond to events in their lives. These various knowledge structures develop over time, beginning in early childhood. The pervasiveness, interconnectedness, and accessibility of any learned knowledge structure is largely determined by the frequency with which it is encountered, imagined, and used. With great frequency even complex knowledge structures can become automatized—so overlearned that they are applied automatically with little effort or awareness.

What Is Social Cognition?


Priming. Memory is filled with concepts. Related concepts are linked together in mem-

in someone’s mind

framing whether messages stress potential gains (positively framed) or potential losses (negatively framed)

● Figure 5.5

In one study (Bargh et al., 1996), participants primed with rude words were much more likely to interrupt the experimenter than were participants in the polite condition. 70

Percentage who interrupted









Neutral Priming condition


From Bargh et. al., “Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action,” Journal of Personality and Social Behavior, 71, 230–244. Copyright © 1996 by the American Psychological Association. Reprinted by permission.

ory (e.g., the concepts orange and juice). When one concept becomes activated in memory by thinking about it, related concepts become activated too. Priming means activating a concept in the mind. William James, philosopher and psychologist, described priming as the “wakening of associations.” Once a concept has been primed, it can influence the way we interpret new information. For example, numerous studies have shown that people are faster to classify a target word (e.g., nurse) when it is preceded by a related word (e.g., doctor) than when it is preceded by an unrelated word (e.g., butter) (Meyer & Schvaneveldt, 1971; Neely, 1991). Thus, a prime is a stimulus that activates further processing of the same or related stimuli. The power of priming to activate concepts, which then hang around in the mind and can influence subsequent thinking, was demonstrated in an early study by Higgins, Rholes, and Jones (1977). Participants were told to identify colors while reading words. By random assignment, some participants read the words reckless, conceited, aloof, and stubborn, while others read the words self-confident, adventurous, independent, and persistent. The words did not seem at all important to the study. Then all participants were told that the experiment was finished, but they were asked to do a brief task for another, separate experiment. In that supposedly different experiment, they read a paragraph about a man named Donald who was a skydiver, a powerboat racer, and a demolition derby driver, and they were asked to describe the impression they had of Donald. It turned out that the words participants had read earlier influenced their opinions of him. Those who had read the words reckless, conceited, aloof, and stubborn were more likely to view Donald as having those traits than were participants who had read the other words. That is, the first task had “primed” participants with the ideas of recklessness, stubbornness, and so forth, and once these ideas were activated, they influenced subsequent thinking. Research has often used priming as a technique to trigger automatic processes. In one study (Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996), participants first unscrambled sentences by choosing four out of five words to make a grammatically correct sentence. They were told to do this as quickly as possible. In the rude priming version, one of the five words was rude (e.g., they/her/bother/see/usually). In the polite priming version, one of the five words was polite (e.g., they/her/respect/see/usually). In the neutral priming version, the polite or rude word was replaced by a neutral word (e.g., they/her/send/see/usually). Participants were told that after they completed the task, they should come out into the hallway and find the experimenter. The experimenter waited for the participant, while pretending to explain the sentence task to a confederate. The confederate pretended to have a difficult time understanding the task. The experimenter refused to acknowledge the participant, who was waiting patiently for instructions on what to do next. The dependent variable in the study was whether participants interrupted the experimenter within a 10-minute period. Of course, it is rude and impolite to interrupt somebody who is speaking to another person. As can be seen in ● Figure 5.5, participants primed with rude words were much more likely to interrupt the experimenter than were participants primed with polite words. Thus, priming activated the idea of being rude (or polite), which then hung around in the mind and even influenced behavior in a seemingly unrelated context.

priming planting or activating an idea

Framing. Every decision has potential gains and losses. This is reflected in the tradeoffs theme discussed in this book (see Chapter 2). “This car (or coat or painting) is more expensive than the other one but looks nicer.” “This looks like the more interesting course to take, but it will be harder than the other one, and it meets too early in the morning.” Social psychologists have become very interested in the framing of health messages—whether they are more effective if they are negatively


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

or positively framed. A positive framing means focusing on gains—that is, on how doing something will make you healthier. In contrast, a negative frame focuses on the downside, such as the potential for greater illness. The media can also frame stories in different ways (Entman, 1993). For example, consider the photo of an American soldier holding an Iraqi child. The American media might frame this photo as an American soldier rescuing a child during the Iraq war, whereas the Arab media might frame the same photo as a child orphaned by American guns.


Thought Suppression and Ironic Processes

Is this a photo of an American soldier rescuing a child, or is it a photo of a child orphaned by American guns? It depends on your frame.

What Is Social Cognition?


Organized beliefs we have about stimuli in our social world are known as _____. (a) automatic processes (b) controlled processes (c) schemas (d) self-concepts


What topic do people spend the greatest amount of time thinking about? (a) Food (b) Money (c) People (d) Weather


The finding that it takes longer to say the color of ink used to print a word if the word and ink color don’t match (e.g., the word RED is printed in blue ink) than if

they do match (e.g., the word BLUE is printed in blue ink) is called the _____ effect. (a) false consensus (b) false uniqueness effect (c) priming (d) Stroop 4.

During their first year of medical school, many medical students begin to think that they and other people they know are suffering from serious illness. This phenomenon, known as the medical student syndrome, is probably due to _____. (a) counterfactual thinking (b) false consensus (c) false uniqueness (d) priming Answers: 1=c, 2=c, 3=d, 4=d

Quiz Yourself

Most people have had thoughts they would like to erase from their minds. When people want to suppress a thought, their mind sets up two processes. One process keeps a lookout for anything that might remind the person of the unwanted thought. It is an automatic process that checks all incoming information for danger. The other is a controlled process that redirects attention away from the unpleasant thought. For example, if you are upset that you did not do well on a chemistry test and want to avoid worrying about it, your mind may automatically watch for anything that might remind you of tests or chemistry, and when some cue arises (e.g., seeing the person who sits in front of you in that class), your conscious mind quickly turns attention elsewhere (e.g., you don’t say hello to that person). The problem with the controlled system is that whenever conscious control is relaxed, the automatic system is still watching for cues and may therefore flood the mind with them (Wegner, 1994). As a child, the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) was once challenged by his older brother Nikolenka to remain standing in a corner until he could stop thinking of a white bear (Biryukov, 1911). Poor Leo could think of nothing else. He quickly learned how difficult it is to control thoughts. Dan Wegner and his colleagues have replicated the informal experiment conducted by young Leo Tolstoy in more formal laboratory settings (Wegner, 1989; Wenzlaff & Wegner, 2000). Regardless of the setting, the results are the same: People who are told not to think of a white bear cannot rid their minds of the white, furry creatures. The paradoxical effects of thought suppression have been linked to a variety of psychological disorders, especially anxiety disorders (e.g., phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder) (Becker et al., 1998; Fehm & Margraf, 2002; Purdon, 1999; Rassin et al., 2001). Food for Thought describes how difficult it is for dieters to control their thoughts and consequently their eating habits.

What Is Social Cognition?


Food for Thought It’s the Thought That Counts (or Doesn’t Count!) the Calories

counterregulation the “What the heck” effect that occurs when people indulge in a behavior they are trying to regulate after an initial regulation failure

250 Dieters Nondieters Ice cream consumed (grams)

How much will someone eat? It depends partly on how hungry the person is. Someone who has not eaten anything for hours will eat more than someone who has just eaten a big meal. At least, that would make sense. Not everyone follows that pattern, and some people even do the opposite. In one research paradigm, participants come to the study after not having had anything to eat for several hours (e.g., Herman & Mack, 1975). By random assignment, participants are initially given nothing to eat, one milkshake, or two milkshakes. Afterward, participants are given three large containers of ice cream (chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla) to taste and rate. In reality, the researchers simply want to find out how much ice cream people will eat, as a function of whether they are already full (milkshake conditions) or hungry (no-milkshake condition). Dieters react differently from nondieters in this situation. Nondieters do what you probably expect. Those who just consumed the milkshakes eat less ice cream, just enough to enable them to answer the questions on the rating sheet, whereas those who did not get any milkshake tend to chow down on the ice cream. Dieters, however, show the opposite pattern (● Figure 5.6). That is, dieters who had not been given any milkshakes to consume were very restrained in tasting the ice cream. But dieters who had been assigned to drink milkshakes actually ate significantly more ice cream than the others. Researchers dubbed this tendency counterregulation—or, more informally, the “What the heck” effect—because the dieters seem to be thinking, “My diet is already blown for the day by drinking milkshakes, so what the heck, I might as well enjoy some ice cream too!” (Herman & Mack, 1975). The fact that the “what the heck” effect is driven by peculiar cognitions, rather than any bodily need for food, was demonstrated in a remarkable series of studies (Knight & Boland, 1981). Apparently whether the dieters think their diet is blown for the day depends more on how they think about certain foods than on the actual number of calories consumed. In one study, some dieters were given a snack of cottage cheese with fruit cocktail, which sounds like diet food but actually contained 580 calories. Others ate a small portion of ice cream that amounted to only 290 calories. Contrary to the actual caloric content, the ones who ate ice cream acted as if their diets were blown and went ahead to eat more. Those who ate the cottage cheese and fruit cocktail acted as if







1 Milkshakes


● Figure 5.6

Nondieters who had had a milkshake ate less ice cream; dieters who had had milkshakes ate more ice cream!

their diets were still intact, even though their snack had contained twice as many calories as the ice cream. In another study, dieters had either a high-calorie or a lowcalorie salad, or a high-calorie or low-calorie ice cream treat. Regardless of calories, those who ate the ice cream showed the “what the heck” effect, whereas those who had eaten the salads did not. The researchers tried another study in which they told participants precisely how many calories were in the assigned food, and moreover they told them that they would eat this later on. Even so, dieters who expected to eat ice cream reacted as if their diets were blown, whereas those who expected to eat salad acted as if their diet were intact, regardless of the caloric content. None of this makes rational sense. Even if you violate your diet for the day, you should avoid eating more fattening foods. Not only do dieters act as if one lapse ruins their diet for the day and it doesn’t matter how much they eat thereafter, they also seem to make those decisions based on rigid ways of thinking about foods, regardless of how many calories the foods contain. Even when the salad contains twice as many calories as the ice cream treat, they act as if salad is good for diets.


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

Attributions: Why Did That Happen?

attributions the causal explanations people give for their own and others’ behaviors, and for events in general

Why did he do that? Why did she say that? Is she angry? Is he a fool? Is this job too hard for me? Does this good news mean that I am smarter than other people, or just lucky? People ask and answer these questions in their own minds all the time. Making the correct inferences is not easy. There is no perfect way to go from what we actually see (such as someone’s actions) to drawing firm conclusions about what that person is like inside (such as stable personality traits). Attributions are the inferences people make about events in their lives. Indeed, the study of attributions was a revolutionary step in the history of social psychology, because it led social psychologists to abandon once and for all the behaviorist tradition that said psychology should only study observable, objective behavior and not talk about thoughts or other inner processes. Attributions opened the way for the study of thoughts and other cognitive processes. Social psychologists began to study attributions because they are a crucial form of information processing that helps determine behavior. Two people may get identical bad grades on a test, but one of them works harder and does better the next time around, whereas the other gives up and drops out of the course. The attributions they make may help explain the difference. One student looked at the bad grade and thought, “I didn’t study hard enough,” and so that person studied harder and improved. The other student looked at the same grade but thought, “I’m no good at this,” or “This is too hard for me.” Such conclusions do not spur people to try harder, because they imply that all such effort is doomed to failure. Instead, they give up. Fritz Heider analyzed what he called the “common sense psychology” by which people explain everyday events (Heider, 1958). Although there may be several different explanations for behavior, Heider said most explanations fall into one of two major categories: (a) internal factors such as ability, attitudes, personality, mood, and effort; and (b) external factors such as the task, other people, or luck. For example, research has shown that when students perform poorly in the classroom, teachers make internal attributions (e.g., the student failed because he or she didn’t study hard enough), whereas students tend to make external attributions (e.g., the test was ambiguous; see Burger, Cooper, & Good, 1982). The internal–external distinction has continued to emerge as a crucial dimension of attributions across several generations of researchers.

It’s Not My Fault: Explaining Success and Failure

© 1993 Watterson. Dist. by Universal Press Syndicate. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

If Calvin fails he wants to make an external attribution for the failure, whereas his teacher wants Calvin to make an internal attribution.

One early thrust of attribution theory was to map out how people interpret success and failure. Heider’s distinction between internal and external causes is certainly important. Success may be due to internal factors of the person such as effort, or could be due to external factors such as luck. Bernard Weiner (1971), another important attribution theorist, proposed a two-dimensional theory of attributions for success and failure. The first dimension was internal versus external; the second dimension was stable versus unstable.





Task difficulty


Attributions: Why Did That Happen?



● Figure 5.7

Two-dimensional attribution theory illustrating the four possible combinations of internal–external and stable–unstable types.

self-serving bias the tendency to take credit for success but deny blame for failure


This two-dimensional map of attributions is illustrated in ● Figure 5.7. The four possible combinations of internal–external and stable–unstable yield the four main types of attributions that people make when they see themselves or someone else perform. Let us briefly consider each. Internal, stable attributions involve ability. People may think their success reflects intelligence or talent. Conversely, they may decide that they failed at something because they lack the relevant ability. Ability attributions are very important because they invoke relatively permanent aspects of the self. People are motivated to conclude that they have high ability (e.g., Obach, 2003; Platt, 1988). Internal, unstable attributions involve effort. Effort is unstable because it can change. If you think someone succeeded because she worked very hard, there is little guarantee that she would do well again (because she might not work as hard the next time). Then again, attributing failure to low effort can be very motivating, because people may think that they might succeed if they tried harder. There are cultural differences on this dimension. People from collectivist cultures emphasize effort, whereas people from individualistic cultures emphasize ability (e.g. Armbrister, 2002; Holloway, Kashiwagi, Hess, & Azuuma, 1986). External, stable attributions point to the difficulty of the task. Success simply indicates the task was easy, whereas failure indicates it was hard. Most other people are likely to get the same result, because the crucial cause lies in the task, not in the person doing it. Last, external and unstable attributions involve luck. If you attribute someone’s success or failure to luck, there is very little credit or blame due to the person, nor is there any reason to expect the same result the next time. Attributions are not made in a vacuum. Among other factors, people want to take credit for success but deny blame for failure. This tendency is called the selfserving bias. Many studies of attribution have confirmed the widespread operation of the self-serving bias (Campbell & Sedikides, 1999). That is, across many different contexts and settings, people prefer to attribute their successes to ability and effort but tend to attribute their failures to bad luck or task difficulty (Zuckerman, 1979). The self-serving bias occurs for several reasons. The main reason is simply that interpreting events in that way makes people feel good. They can maintain their high opinion of themselves by discounting their failures and maximizing the glory of their successes. However, evidence suggests that the self-serving bias is especially strong when people are explaining their successes and failures to others (Bradley, 1978; Tetlock, 1980). This would imply that they care more about what others think of them than about how they think of themselves. In other words, the self-serving bias is an important feature of self-presentation, which was described in Chapter 3 as people’s efforts to control the impressions they make on others. (In a sense, self-presentation is about trying to influence the attributions that other people make about you.) The self-presentational nature of the self-serving bias reflects another theme of this book, which is that inner processes serve interpersonal ends. People learn to think in ways that will help them get along better with others. If others see you as an incompetent loser, your chances of being accepted by others (e.g., hired for a good job) are low. Hence people want to maximize their credit for success while avoiding having their failures reflect badly on themselves.

You Looking at Me? The Actor/Observer Bias Suppose you go to a store and see a man shouting at the salesclerk. You might be tempted to conclude that the shouting person is a grumpy, obnoxious fellow. After all, obnoxious people certainly are more likely to shout at people in stores than are agreeable, easygoing, nice people. Then again, the shouting man might see things very differently. If you asked him “Why are you shouting?” he would be unlikely to give the answer “Because I am an obnoxious person!” More likely, he would say that the store clerk has treated him badly, and perhaps he has experienced a series of frustrations all day long.

Chapter 5: Social Cognition

In this example, we saw very different conclusions (attributions) about the same behavior. The difference reflects one of the most durable patterns of attribution, called the actor/observer bias (Jones & Nisbett, 1971). It is relevant to any situation in which one person (the observer) is watching someone else’s (the actor’s) behavior. The bias occurs along the same basic dimension of attribution that we have already seen emerge repeatedly—namely, internal versus external. The actor/observer bias can be defined this way: Actors tend to attribute their own behavior to the situation, whereas observers tend to attribute actors’ behavior to the actors. Put more simply, actors tend to make external attributions, whereas observers make internal attributions. The actor/observer bias can produce many misunderstandings and disagreements. Indeed, in an argument, it may be common for both sides to see themselves as responding to what the other does. “He started it!” is a common complaint, often heard on both sides, because each side attributes its own behavior to the situation but others’ behavior to their traits and other dispositions. It seems natural to infer that they are fighting because they are mean, whereas we are fighting because they attacked us. Or, in the simpler words of pro hockey player Barry Beck on a brawl that broke out in one game, “We have only one person to blame, and that’s each other!” Some psychologists have focused on the observer side of the actor/observer bias, labeling it the fundamental attribution error (also sometimes called correspondence bias). When the error involves making an internal attribution about whole groups of people instead of individuals it is called the ultimate attribution error (Pettigrew, 1979). People have a bias to attribute another person’s behavior to internal or dispositional causes (e.g., personality traits, attitudes) to a much greater extent than they should. People fail to take full notice and consideration of the external factors (e.g., the situation, constraints of the social environment) that are operating on the person. This is especially salient to social psychologists, who have traditionally studied how situations cause behavior—they think that the average person fails to appreciate how strong situational causes can be. This bias is found in individuals from both collectivist and individualist cultures (Krull, Loy, & Lin, 1999). Indeed, it may be that the main thing people do when they observe another person’s behavior is decide whether to make an internal attribution. In a sense, internal attributions are the main goal of the attribution process. For example, is the person who commits an act of aggression a beast? Is the person who donates money to charity an altruist? To answer this kind of question, people make inferences on the basis of factors such as choice. Behavior that is freely chosen is more informative about a person than is behavior that is coerced. In one study (Jones & Harris, 1967), participants read a speech, ostensibly written by a college student, that either favored or opposed Fidel Castro, the communist leader of Cuba. The participants were instructed to try to figure out the true attitude of the essay writer. Half of the participants were told that the student who wrote the essay had freely chosen to take this position. The other participants were told that the student was assigned the position by a professor. The study results are depicted in ● Figure 5.8. When asked to estimate the student’s true attitude, participants were more likely to assume that there was a correspondence between his or her essay (behavior) and attitude (disposition) when the student had a choice than when the student had no choice. However, crucially, the participants in that study were willing to make internal attributions even when they were told the essay writer had had no choice. Logically, you cannot infer anything about someone’s true opinion if the person’s behavior was forced by the situation. This is the fundamental attribution error in action: People discounted the Bruce Bennett/Getty Images


In many fights and brawls, each side claims that the other side started it. actor/observer bias the tendency for actors to make external attributions and observers to make internal attributions fundamental attribution error (correspondence bias) the tendency for observers to attribute other people’s behavior to internal or dispositional causes and to downplay situational causes

ultimate attribution error the tendency for observers to make internal attributions (fundamental attribution error) about whole groups of people

Attributions: Why Did That Happen?

60 Pro-Castro speech Anti-Castro speech

Pro-Castro attitude


40 Fundamental attribution error 30



Chosen Assigned Speech topic

● Figure 5.8

Participants in the Jones and Harris (1967) study thought that students who wrote a pro-Castro speech had pro-Castro attitudes, even if the speech topic was assigned to them. This is an example of the fundamental attribution error (also called correspondence bias). covariation principle for something to be the cause of a behavior, it must be present when the behavior occurs and absent when the behavior does not occur

consensus in attribution theory, whether other people would do the same thing in the same situation consistency in attribution theory, whether the person typically behaves this way in this situation

distinctiveness in attribution theory, whether the person would behave differently in a different situation

attribution cube an attribution theory that uses three types of information: consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness


situational pressures to write a pro-Castro essay and concluded that the writer must have pro-Castro opinions. There are at least four explanations for the fundamental attribution error. First, behavior is more noticeable than situational factors, which are often hidden. Second, people assign insufficient weight to situational causes even when they are made aware of them. Third, people are cognitive misers; they often take quick and easy answers rather than thinking long and hard about things. It takes considerably less cognitive effort to make internal attributions than to make external attributions by thinking about all the external factors that might be operating on the person. Fourth, language is richer in trait-like terms to explain behavior than in situational terms. Try this simple exercise: First, write down as many terms as you can think of to describe an individual’s personality or inner disposition. Next, write down as many terms as you can think of to describe the situational factors that could influence a person. There are thousands of trait adjectives for explaining behavior in terms of dispositional qualities (e.g., intelligent, outgoing, funny, introverted, mean, nice, creative, dull, crazy, logical, flexible, patient, emotional), whereas there are relatively few terms for explaining behavior in situational terms (e.g., role, status, pressure, circumstance).

The Attribution Cube and Making Excuses Suppose you see a man named Joe kicking a dog named Fido. Is Joe a vicious person who abuses animals, or is Fido a vicious dog that attacks people? Social psychologist Harold Kelley proposed an attribution theory to answer questions like this. According to Kelley (1967), people make attributions by using the covariation principle— that for something to be the cause of a behavior, it must be present when the behavior occurs and absent when the behavior does not occur. Kelley proposed that people use three types of covariation information. The first type of information is consensus. It makes sense to ask whether other people would do the same thing if they were in the same situation. To obtain consensus information, ask the question “Do others behave similarly in this situation?” If the answer is yes, consensus is high. If not, consensus is low. The second type of information is consistency. To obtain consistency information, ask the question “Does the person usually behave this way in this situation?” If the answer is yes, consistency is high. If the answer is no, consistency is low. The third type of information is distinctiveness. To obtain distinctiveness information, ask the question “Does the person behave differently in different situations?” If the answer is yes, distinctiveness is high. If the answer is no, distinctiveness is low. Kelley’s theory is sometimes called the attribution cube because it uses three types of information to make attributions (see ● Table 5.1). People generally make an external attribution when consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness are all high. People generally make an internal attribution when consistency is high, but distinctiveness and consensus are low. Other combinations of consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness lead to ambiguous attributions. Consider again our example of Joe kicking Fido. To obtain consensus information, ask the question “Does everyone kick Fido?” To obtain consistency information, ask the question “Does Joe always kick Fido?” To obtain distinctiveness information, ask the question “Does Joe kick all dogs, or just Fido?” If consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness are all high (everyone kicks Fido; Joe always kicks Fido; Joe doesn’t kick any other dogs, only Fido), then we make an external attribution (e.g., Fido is a vicious dog). If consistency is high (Joe always kicks Fido) but consensus and distinctiveness are low (only Joe kicks Fido; Joe kicks all dogs), we make an internal attribution (e.g., Joe is a vicious person who kicks dogs). One good way to remember Kelley’s theory is by considering an important interpersonal application of it—namely, making excuses (Snyder, Higgins, & Stucky, 1983). A good excuse is essentially an external attribution. People look for excuses when they have done something bad or wrong but do not want other people to conclude that the


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

● TABLE 5.1

Kelley’s attribution cube, in which attributions are based on three dimensions (hence the term cube): consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness.





High (Everyone kicks Fido)

High (Joe always kicks Fido)

High (Joe doesn’t kick any other dogs, only Fido)

External (Fido is a vicious dog)

Low (Only Joe kicks Fido)

High (Joe always kicks Fido)

Low (Joe kicks all dogs)

Internal (Joe is a vicious person who kicks dogs)

Low (Only Joe kicks Fido)

Low (Joes sometimes kicks Fido)

High (Joe doesn’t kick any other dogs, only Fido)

Ambiguous (Not sure whether it is something about Joe or something about Fido)

bad action reflects that they are a bad person. Based on the three types of information in Kelley’s theory, there are three main types of excuses. Suppose, for example, that you invite your boss over to dinner. Just as you are serving the meal, you attempt to fill her water glass and instead accidentally pour water all over her. You don’t want her to make the attribution that you are a clumsy oaf who cannot be trusted with responsibility, or (worse yet) that you deliberately wanted to douse her fancy dress with ice water. So you might make any of three sorts of excuses. First, you might raise consensus: “Everybody spills water sometimes; it could happen to anyone.” Second, you could lower consistency: “I don’t usually spill things.” Third, you could raise distinctiveness: “Sorry about the water, but at least I got the red wine, gravy, and soup on the table without pouring them on your dress!”




Attributions: Why Did That Happen?

You and I work on a joint project, and it succeeds. In describing our relative contributions to the project, you assume that your contribution is greater than mine, but I assume that my contribution is greater than yours. This illustrates the _____. (a) actor/observer bias (b) false consensus effect (c) fundamental attribution (d) self-serving bias error Hans sees Franz trip while walking down an outside flight of steps during the winter. “What a klutz,” thinks Hans. Fifteen minutes later, Hans trips on the same flight of stairs. “Very icy today,” thinks Hans. Hans’ thinking illustrates the _____. (a) actor/observer bias (b) covariation principle (c) false consensus effect (d) Stroop test Jose reads Sarina’s essay that strongly supports capital punishment. Jose knows that Sarina had been assigned the task of writing the essay favoring capital punishment by her debate teacher. Jose is likely to _____. (a) believe that Sarina (b) believe that Sarina opposes capital does, at least to some punishment extent, favor capital punishment

(c) believe that Sarina’s position on capital punishment is neutral

(d) reach no conclusion about Sarina’s real position on capital punishment

Use the following information to answer questions 4 and 5: Winthrop is flirtatious toward Jill. Tom, Dick, and Harry also are quite flirtatious toward Jill. Winthrop was seen being flirtatious toward Jill several times (in class, walking by the library, while eating his lunch seductively). Winthrop is not really the outgoing type; he rarely dates and is never flirtatious toward anyone but Jill. 4.

In the above example, consensus is _____ and consistency is _____. (a) high; high (b) high; low (c) low; high (d) low; low


In the above example, distinctiveness is _____ and the attribution is _____. (a) high; external (b) high; internal (c) low; external (d) low; internal

Answers: 1=d, 2=a, 3=b, 4=a, 5=a

Quiz Yourself

Heuristics: Mental Shortcuts


Heuristics: Mental Shortcuts “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” —Albert Einstein

heuristics mental shortcuts that provide quick estimates about the likelihood of uncertain events

People have to make judgments and inferences about uncertain outcomes all the time, and they do it using limited information. What is the likelihood I will get a speeding ticket if I drive 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit? What is the likelihood of my professor giving an unannounced quiz today in class? What is the likelihood that I will get a high-paying job if I major in psychology? What is the likelihood that this person will say yes if I ask him/her out on a date? What is the likelihood of divorce if I marry this person? What is the likelihood of getting lung cancer if I smoke cigarettes? What is the likelihood of getting pregnant or catching a sexually transmitted disease if I have unprotected sex with my partner? As we have seen, controlled conscious thinking is difficult and requires effort, so most people prefer to rely on automatic processing when they can. The automatic system, however, is not smart enough to perform all the complex operations of reasoning; instead, it relies on shortcuts. These mental shortcuts, called heuristics, provide quick estimates (though sometimes inaccurate ones) for decisions about uncertain events. Research by Daniel Kahneman on heuristics even won the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics “for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty.” Although people use several heuristics, we will discuss only the four most common ones: (a) representativeness, (b) availability, (c) simulation, and (d) anchoring and adjustment (Fiske, 2004). Other shortcuts will be discussed later. For example, stereotypes, sometimes considered to be heuristics, will be covered in Chapter 12 on prejudice and intergroup relations.

Representativeness Heuristic representativeness heuristic the tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the extent to which it resembles the typical case

The representativeness heuristic is the tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the extent to which it resembles the typical case. For example, in a series of 10 coin tosses, most people judge the series HHTTHTHTTH to be more likely than the series HHHHHHHHHH (where H is heads and T is tails), even though both series are equally likely. The reason is that the first series looks more random than the second series. It “represents” our idea of what a random series should look like. Heavy reliance on the representative heuristic leads people to ignore other factors that heavily influence the actual frequencies and likelihoods, such as rules of chance, independence, and base rate information. Consider the following example: Tom is a 41-year-old who reads nonfiction books, listens to National Public Radio, and plays tennis in his spare time. Which is more likely? a. Tom is an Ivy League professor. b. Tom is a truck driver. Most people answer (a) because Tom seems like a typical Ivy League professor. People fail to consider, however, that there are a lot more truck drivers than there are Ivy League professors. Thus, in making that judgment, people rely on one kind of information (representativeness, which means how well Tom resembles the category of professors) instead of another (how many people there are in the category). The representativeness heuristic is related to the base rate fallacy described later in this chapter.

availability heuristic the tendency to

Availability Heuristic

judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the ease with which relevant instances come to mind

The availability heuristic is the tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the ease with which relevant instances come to mind. The ease with which

Chapter 5: Social Cognition


The availability heuristic provides one explanation of ESP beliefs. People remember salient events, but forget nonsalient events.

relevant instances come to mind is influenced not only by the actual frequency but also by Yes No factors such as how salient or noticeable the event is, how recent the event is, and whether attention was paid to the event. Thus, people Available Unavailable overestimate the frequency of dramatic deaths and underestimate the frequency of less dramatic deaths (Fischhoff, 1981). For example, airplane crash deaths are much more dramatic Unavailable Unavailable than are deaths caused by tobacco use, and they get a lot more attention from the mass media, which makes them stand out in memory (high availability). As a result, people think they are common. In fact, three jumbo jets full of passengers crashing every day for a year would not equal the number of deaths per year caused by tobacco use. Tobacco kills more than 450,000 people a year (FDA, 1997). It also takes tobacco a long time to kill a person, so deaths due to tobacco aren’t as salient as deaths due to airplane crashes. The availability heuristic might also help explain extra-sensory perception (ESP) beliefs. Have you had a dream and later found out that the dream came true? This has happened to most people. It might be because this event is more salient than the other possible events, as is shown in ● Figure 5.9. It takes a skilled observer to notice when an expected event does not occur. For example, consider an incident in the story “Silver Blaze” from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s (1974) The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Colonel Ross owned a horse named Silver Blaze, the favorite for the Wessex Cup. Silver Blaze had mysteriously disappeared and the horse’s trainer, John Staker, had been murdered. Inspector Gregory asked Sherlock Holmes to help investigate the case. During the investigation, Colonel Ross asked Sherlock Holmes, “Is there anything else to which you wish to draw my attention?” Holmes replied, “Yes, to the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.” Ross answered, “But the dog did nothing in the nighttime!” Holmes responded, “That is the curious incident.” The dog was kept in the same stable as Silver Blaze. Three boys were also in the stable; two slept in the loft while the third kept watch. The stable boy who kept watch had been drugged with opium. Holmes explained, “Though someone had been in and had fetched out a horse, he had not barked enough to arouse the two lads in the loft. Obviously the midnight visitor was someone whom the dog knew well.” From this, the famous detective was able to figure out that it was the trainer who had taken the horse that night. Dream recalled


● Figure 5.9

“Key” event happened


Simulation Heuristic simulation heuristic the tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the ease with which you can imagine (or mentally simulate) it

The simulation heuristic is the tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the ease with which you can imagine (or mentally simulate) an event. More easily imagined events are judged to be more likely. People respond more emotionally to situations when they can easily imagine a different outcome. Consider the following hypothetical example (Kahneman & Tversky, 1982). Mr. Crane and Mr. Tees were scheduled to leave the airport on different flights, at the same time. They traveled from town in the same limousine, were caught in a traffic jam, and arrived at the airport thirty minutes after the scheduled departure time of their flights. Mr. Crane is told that his flight left on time. Mr. Tees is told that his flight was delayed and just left five minutes ago. Who is more upset, Mr. Crane or Mr. Tees? Most people think Mr. Tees would be more upset than Mr. Crane. The reason is that it is easier for people to imagine how Mr. Tees could have made his flight (e.g., if

A Heuristics: Mental Shortcuts


© Jean-Yves Ruszniewsky/TempSport/Corbis

only the plane had waited a little longer, if only the traffic jam had cleared a few minutes earlier). In another study (Medvec et al., 1995), researchers videotaped television coverage of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. They showed participants the immediate reactions of bronze and silver medalists at the end of the competition, and on the podium when they received their awards. Participants rated the bronze medalists to be happier than the silver medalists! Why? Although the silver medalists received a higher award than the bronze medalists, it was easier for them to imagine winning the gold medal. For the bronze medal winners, it was a close call to be on the podium with a medal at all. If a few small things had been different, they might have finished in fourth place and received no medal. Satisfaction depends on thoughts about what might have been. The simulation heuristic addresses these “if only” thoughts, also called counterfactual thoughts. We discuss counterfactual thinking in more detail later in this chapter.

Can you tell who was the silver medalist by only looking at their facial expressions?

Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic

anchoring and adjustment the tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by using a starting point (called an anchor) and then making adjustments up or down

In estimating how frequent or likely an event is, people use a starting point (called an anchor) and then make adjustments up and down from this starting point. This mental shortcut or heuristic is called anchoring and adjustment. For example, if one party in a negotiation starts by suggesting a price or condition, then the other party is likely to base its counteroffer on this anchor. People use anchors even if they know they are just random numbers. Crucially, most research finds that people remain close, typically too close, to the anchor (Slovic & Lichtenstein, 1971). The anchor has far more impact than it deserves. Participants in one study had to estimate what percentage of the United Nations was comprised of African countries (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). Before they made their estimate, they were given an anchor that was ostensibly random and had no meaningful link to the correct answer. The researcher spun a Wheel of Fortune type wheel that contained the numbers 0–100. The wheel was rigged so that it stopped on 10 for half the participants and on 65 for the other half. These numbers were the anchors. Participants were asked if the percentage of African countries was higher or lower than the number on the wheel. Thus, some participants made their estimate after saying “more than 10%” while the rest made estimates after saying “less than 65%.” The estimating task was the same for both groups, and so in theory they should have made similar estimates, but both groups stuck close to their anchor. The average estimate of participants who had been given the random number 10 was 25%, whereas the average estimate of those given the random number 65 was 45%. This study illustrates that people are influenced by an initial anchor value even though it may be unreliable (indeed, it was seemingly chosen at random). ● Table 5.2 summarizes the definitions and examples of the four heuristics we have discussed. The next section discusses the most common cognitive errors people make.


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

● Table 5.2

The Most Common Mental Shortcuts (or Heuristics) That People Use

Quiz Yourself





The tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the extent to which it “resembles” the typical case.

In a series of 10 coin tosses, most people judge the series HHTTHTHTTH to be more likely than the series HHHHHHHHHH (where H is heads and T is tails), even though both are equally likely.


The tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the ease with which relevant instances come to mind.

People overestimate the frequency of dramatic deaths (e.g., dying in an airplane crash) and underestimate the frequency of less dramatic deaths (e.g., dying from lung cancer).


The tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the ease with which you can imagine (or mentally simulate) an event.

In the Olympics, bronze medalists appear to be happier than silver medalists, because it is easier for a silver medalist to imagine being a gold medalist.

Anchoring and adjustment

The tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by using a starting point (called an anchor) and then making adjustments up and down from this starting point.

If one party in a negotiation starts by suggesting a price or condition, then the other party is likely to base its counteroffer on this anchor.

Heuristics: Mental Shortcuts


The strategy of judging the likelihood of things by how well they match particular prototypes constitutes the _____ heuristic. (a) availability (b) matching (c) representativeness (d) vividness


People’s greater fear of flying than of driving can probably best be explained by the _____ heuristic. (a) anchoring and adjustment (b) availability (c) representativeness (d) simulation


“If only I hadn’t driven home from work using a different route,” thinks Minh, “then my car would not have been hit in the rear by that other driver!” Minh’s statement most clearly reflects _____. (a) the availability heuristic (b) self-serving bias (c) counterfactual thinking (d) the self-fulfilling prophecy


Masako asked two friends to estimate the number of people living in Tokyo. The correct answer, according to the 2000 census, was just over 12 million. She asked the first friend whether it was more or less than 8 million. She asked the second friend whether it was more or less than 16 million. The first friend guessed 9 million people, whereas the second friend guessed 15 million people. The difference in estimates can best be explained using the _____ heuristic. (a) anchoring and adjustment (b) availability (c) representativeness (d) simulation

Answers: 1=c, 2=b, 3=c, 4=a

Errors and Biases

information overload having too much information to comprehend or integrate

Our age has been described as the information age. For example, the number of TV channels has increased from three or four to hundreds. The Internet has made information more accessible than ever before. This increase in information has not had much impact on other animals, such as snails or squirrels, but it has had a tremendous impact on humans. One resulting danger is information overload, defined as

Errors and Biases


AFP/AFP/Getty Images

“the state of having too much information to make a decision or remain informed about a topic” (, 2004). Information overload can result from a high rate of new information being added (too much to keep up with), contradictions in available information, a low signal-to-noise ratio (too much irrelevant information compared to the amount of relevant information), and the lack of an efficient method for comparing and processing different types of information (worldiq, 2004). In one study (Lee & Lee, 2004), participants selected a CD player from a web page. As the researchers manipulated the number of alternatives and features available, consumers quickly became overwhelmed and confused by the number of choices involved. One theme of this book is the duplex mind. The human mind has two main systems: the automatic system and the conscious system. The automatic system helps people deal with information overload. The job of the automatic system is to make quick, fairly accurate judgments and decisions, whereas the conscious system works more slowly and thoroughly but can make more precise judgments and decisions. Because most people are cognitive misers and do not like to expend mental effort, they rely heavily on the automatic system. The automatic system takes shortcuts, such as by using heuristics. Even though the automatic system is very good at helping people make fast decisions (it can do it in milliseconds!), it is not very good at making calculations, such as with probabilities. Thus, the automatic system is prone to make several kinds of cognitive errors. When it comes to the topic of sex partners, the quick answers differ considerably for men and women. For example, many studies have found dramatic but logically implausible differences in how men and women answer the question of how many partners they have had. Read The Social Side of Sex to find out more. People generally have access to two types of information: (a) statistical information from a large number of people, and (b) case history information from a small number of people (could be even one person). Although people would make much better decisions if they paid the most attention to statistical information, they generally pay the most attention to case history information (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). For example, when buying a new car people are more influenced by what a few friends tell them about a car (case history information) than they are by what hundreds of people say about the car in Consumer Reports (statistical information). Even if the car has an outstanding repair rate and is rated very highly by consumers, they won’t buy it if their friend owned a similar car once and said it was a “lemon.” In this section we describe some of the common cognitive errors and biases that affect people’s decisions.

Confirmation Bias

confirmation bias the tendency to notice and search for information that confirms one’s beliefs and to ignore information that disconfirms one’s beliefs

Jonathan Cainer was born in the U.K. in 1958 (Smith, 2004). He dropped out of school when he was 15 years old, pumped gas at a service station, and played in a band called Strange Cloud. In the early 1980s he moved to the United States and became a manager at a nightclub in Los Angeles. There he met a psychic poet named Charles John Quatro, who told him he would some day write an astrology column read by millions. Cainer returned to the U.K. and enrolled at the Faculty of Astrological Studies in London. Today he does indeed write an astrology newspaper column that is read by more than 12 million people. Are you impressed by the accuracy of Quatro’s prediction regarding Cainer’s future as an astrology columnist? We can predict your answer to this question, even though we have never met you and we are not psychics. If you believe in astrology, we predict that you will be impressed. If you don’t believe in astrology, we predict that you will not be impressed. Were we correct? Told you so! This example illustrates the confirmation bias (Baggini, 2004), defined as the tendency to notice information that confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore information that disconfirms one’s beliefs.


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

The Social Side of Sex Counting Sex Partners These sex acts would be counted by the men but not by the women in the research sample (because prostitutes were not sampled). These do contribute something to the finding that men have more sex partners than women. However, some researchers have calculated that there is not nearly enough prostitution to account for the large gender difference in tallies of partners (Einon, 1994; Phillis & Gromko, 1985). The same goes for homosexual activity. True, gay males typically have more partners than gay females, but gay males are a relatively small segment of the population. Even when data are restricted to heterosexual and non-prostitute sex, men report more partners than women (Phillis & Gromko, 1985). Research on social cognition has identified two processes that help produce the difference. One is a difference in how people count. People who have had more than about half a dozen partners do not always keep an exact count. When asked how many partners they have had, they can either try to make a mental list, or they can estimate. Apparently, women usually answer by making a mental list, but this procedure is prone to underestimating (because it is easy to forget something that may have happened once or twice some years ago). In contrast, men tend to estimate, and estimating tends to produce inflated numbers (because men round up: a true figure of 22 might produce an estimated answer of “about 25”). Accordingly, when men and women try to give honest answers, they may still furnish systematically distorted numbers (Brown & Sinclair, 1999; Sinclair & Brown, 1999; Wiederman, 1997). The other process involves shifting criteria. What exactly counts as sex? Research has shown that men are more

AP Images

At some point in the development of most intimate relationships, the two individuals ask each other how many people they have previously had sex with. A simple question with a simple answer, right? Hardly. In fact, even when people give supposedly honest answers to physicians or researchers, the answers are subject to distortion from a variety of sources (see Laumann et al., 1994; Morokoff, 2986 Wiederman, 1993). One sign of distortion is that in all surveys, men report many more sex partners than women. For example, in 2004, ABC News conducted a national poll and reported on the show PrimeTime Live that the average American man has had sex with 20 partners but the average American woman has had only 6 partners (Sawyer, 2004). Similar results, though usually with lower numbers, have been reported in all other studies (e.g., Janus & Janus, 1993; Laumann et al., 1994; Philllis & Gromko, 1985; Robinson & Godey, 1998). These inequalities are logically impossible. If we count only heterosexual behavior, and if there are roughly the same number of men as women, then the average numbers of sex partners must be equal. Every time a man has sex with a new woman, the woman also has sex with a new man. How can the numbers be so different? And same-sex behavior is not enough to explain the gap. If the ABC News numbers were correct, then the average American man would have had sex with 6 women and 14 men! Most evidence indicates that same-gender sex is much rarer than that (Laumann et al., 1994). Most experts suspect that tallies of sex partners are affected by motivation. Men want to claim to have had many sex partners, because that indicates that they are handsome, charming, and virile. Women, however, want to claim relatively few partners, because women value being choosy and look down on others who have had many partners (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004; Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Miller & Fishkin, 1997). Still, how do these motivations translate into different tallies of sex partners? One possible answer is that people lie. Men might invent more partners than they have had, and women might deny or conveniently forget some of their past sexual experiences. Although possible, this answer seems unlikely. The gender difference in sex partners is found even on anonymous surveys, in which people would have little to gain by lying and would supposedly not be embarrassed by the truth. Another possible answer is that differences are due to sex with prostitutes or homosexual activity. Few surveys include prostitutes, and so these women (some of whom have had sex with thousands of men) could skew the data.

Bill Clinton told the American public, “I did not have sex with that woman.”


Errors and Biases

likely than women to include the borderline cases such as oral sex (Sanders & Reinisch, 1994). There is no truly correct answer there, and so, as social cognition researchers have found in many spheres, people use criteria that suit them and make them feel good (e.g., Dunning, 1999). Women want to report relatively few sex partners, and so if they only had oral sex with someone they feel justified in saying they did not have sex. Men want to have higher tallies, and so they think it is reasonable to include oral sex and other such cases. Note that this was a big issue in the Bill Clinton sex scandals. Even though he was a man, the former president


did not want to count oral sex as sex because it reflected badly on him, in the same way that many women may not want to count such activities because they feel it may reflect badly on them. That is why the investigating panel defined sex very explicitly for these trials, so that there would be a true and correct answer to the questions. No doubt some people do lie about their sexual histories. But even when they try to tell the truth, they may furnish heavily biased answers. Moreover, these answers are distorted in the directions that give people the answers they prefer.

Philosopher Francis Bacon said, “It is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives.” Previous research has shown that paranormal beliefs such as telepathy can be explained by the confirmation bias (Rudski, 2002). The confirmation bias isn’t limited to paranormal beliefs, however. This bias extends to a wide variety of beliefs (Nickerson, 1998). In the story that began this chapter, Carolyn and Eric stayed in their trailer during a hurricane, and they interpreted the fact that their trailer was not destroyed as confirming their faith that divine powers were watching over them. Other people who were skeptical of religious faith might have interpreted the fact that their trailer was blown off its base as a sign that no divine power was watching over them.

Conjunction Fallacy Consider the hypothetical case of Linda (Tversky & Kahneman, 1983). Linda is 31, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy in college. As a student, she was deeply concerned with discrimination and other social issues, and she participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. Which is more likely? a. Linda is a bank teller. b. Linda is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement.

conjunction fallacy the tendency to see an event as more likely as it becomes more specific because it is joined with elements that seem similar to events that are likely

Most people (87%) answered (b) even though this answer is mathematically impossible. Answer (b) can never be more likely than answer (a). Answer (b) can at best be equal to answer (a), but only if all bank tellers are active in the feminist movement. Because only some bank tellers are active in the feminist movement, answer (a) is more likely. This cognitive error, called the conjunction fallacy, is the tendency for people to see an event as more likely as it becomes more specific because it is joined with elements that seem similar to events that are likely. However, the actual likelihood of an event being true declines when it becomes more specific because additional elements must also be true in order for the overall event to be true. The representativeness heuristic provides one possible explanation for the conjunction error.

Illusory Correlation illusory correlation the tendency to overestimate the link between variables that are related only slightly or not at all

An illusory correlation occurs when people overestimate the link between variables that are related only slightly or not at all (e.g., Golding & Rorer, 1972). For example, people overestimate the frequency of undesirable behavior by minority group members. One explanation for this tendency is that minority group status and undesirable behaviors are both relatively rare. Because people are sensitive to rare events, the occurrence of two rare events together is especially noticeable. In one study (Hamilton & Gifford, 1976), participants read a series of sentences describing a desirable or an undesirable behavior from a person in group A or B (e.g., “John, a member of Group A, visited a sick friend in the hospital.” “Allen, a


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

● Figure 5.10

Desirable behaviors Undesirable behaviors 15 Number of behaviors

Actual correlation in Hamilton and Gifford (1976) study. Twothirds of the behaviors were performed by Group A members (the majority), and two-thirds of the behaviors were desirable for both groups.




base rate fallacy the tendency to ignore or underuse base rate information and instead to be influenced by the distinctive features of the case being judged


● Figure 5.11

Group B

20 Desirable behaviors Undesirable behaviors 15 Number of behaviors

Illusory correlation in Hamilton and Gifford (1976) study. Even though two-thirds of the behaviors committed by Group B members were desirable, participants “recalled” Group B members committing more undesirable behaviors than desirable behaviors.

Group A




Group A

Group B

Base Rate Fallacy Another cognitive error is the base rate fallacy—the tendency to ignore or underuse base rate information (information about most people) and instead to be influenced by the distinctive features of the case being judged. Consider the following example (Kahneman et al., 1982):

© Mike Finn-Kelcey/Reuters/CorbisAP Images

One goal, one game: In 2004, underdog Greece surprised the world by winning the European championship in the world’s most popular sport, soccer. Greece got there by beating the two hardest opponents, the tournament favorite Czechs in the semifinal game and the home team Portugal in the final, both by 1–0 scores. The Greeks might not have made it past the supposedly stronger teams if they had had to play seven-game series, but when the title is decided by one goal in one game, anything can happen.

member of Group B, dented the fender of a parked car and didn’t leave his name.”). Overall, two-thirds of the behaviors were desirable for both groups, and two-thirds involved a member of Group A—the majority. See ● Figure 5.10. Participants estimated the number of desirable and undesirable behaviors performed by members of each group. The ratio of desirable to undesirable behaviors was the same for the two groups, so the estimates should have been the same for the two groups, but they were not. Participants overestimated the number of undesirable behaviors performed by Group B (minority) members. Participants estimated more undesirable behaviors than desirable behaviors from Group B members! See ● Figure 5.11. The mass media contribute to these illusory correlations. For example, if a mentally ill person shoots a famous person (e.g., Mark Chapman shoots John Lennon; John Hinckley Jr. shoots former president Ronald Reagan), the media draw attention to the mental status of the assassin. Assassinations and mental hospitalizations are both relatively rare, making the combination especially noticeable. Such media reporting adds to the illusion of a correlation between mental illness and violent tendencies.

A town has two hospitals. In the larger hospital, about 45 babies are born every day; in the smaller hospital, about 15 babies are born every day. In one year, each hospital recorded the number of days on which more than 60% of the babies born were boys. Which hospital recorded more such days? a. The large hospital b. The small hospital c. About the same number of days (within 5% of each other)

Most people answer (c). People don’t consider the fact that variability decreases as sample size increases. Think about flipping a coin 10 times and getting 6 heads versus flipping a coin 1000 times and getting 600 heads. You are much more likely to get 6 heads in 10 flips than to get 600 heads in 1000 flips. Most soccer tournaments, such as the World

Errors and Biases


Cup, allow underdogs a better chance to win. In a single game, the weaker team might get lucky and win. Across many games, the better team will tend to win more often. Soccer is especially vulnerable to the effects of small samples, because soccer games tend to have low scores such as 1–0. Thus, there may be only one goal scored in the entire championship contest, and that goal decides the winner. In contrast, a seven-game World Series of baseball may easily contain 40 to 50 points scored, and a seven-game basketball series will typically have over more than 1000 points, which gives the better team more chances to win.

Gambler’s Fallacy Suppose you flip a coin 10 times. You flip nine heads in a row. Is your next flip more likely to be: a. heads b. tails c. heads and tails are equally likely

gambler’s fallacy the tendency to believe that a particular chance event is affected by previous events and that chance events will “even out” in the short run

The correct answer is (c). Answer (a) is one version of the gambler’s fallacy (you think your luck will continue). Answer (b) is another version of the gambler’s fallacy (you think your luck will change). The gambler’s fallacy is the belief that a particular chance event is affected by previous events, and that chance events will even out in the short run. If people think about it, they would agree that heads and tails are equally likely on any given flip. They might also agree that the outcome of any flip does not depend on the outcome of the previous flip.

False Consensus Effect false consensus effect the tendency to overestimate the number of other people who share one’s opinions, attitudes, values, and beliefs

People tend to overestimate the number of people who share their opinions, attitudes, values, and beliefs. This tendency is called the false consensus effect (Krueger & Clement, 1994; Marks & Miller, 1987). In one study (Ross et al., 1977), students were asked if they would walk around campus carrying a sign that said “Eat at Joe’s.” Later they were asked how many other people they thought would be willing to carry such a sign. Those who agreed to carry the sign said that 62% of other people would also agree to carry the sign. Those who refused to carry the sign said that only 33% of other people would carry the sign. Obviously both can’t be right, and one or both groups tended to overestimate the proportion of people who would respond the same way they themselves had. The availability heuristic provides one possible explanation of the false consensus effect. When asked to predict what other people are like, people use the information that is most readily available—information from the people they associate with. Because people tend to associate with similar others, this available information might lead people to overestimate the percentage of people who are similar to themselves. Another explanation is that people want to believe their views and actions are the correct ones, so they assume others would concur. Yet another explanation is that people use their own reaction as an “anchor” (remember the anchoring and adjustment heuristic?) and adjust it when having to furnish a broad prediction about people in general, and as usual they tend to remain too close to the anchor.

False Uniqueness Effect false uniqueness effect (betterthan-average effect, Lake Wobegon effect) the tendency to underestimate the number of other people who share one’s most prized characteristics and abilities

People tend to underestimate the number of people who share their most prized characteristics and abilities. This tendency is called the false uniqueness effect (Goethals et al., 1991). It also is called the better-than-average effect and the Lake Wobegon effect. In Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, a fictional town invented by humorist Garrison Keillor (1985), “all the women are strong, all the men are goodlooking, and all the children are above average.” For example, religious people believe that other people are more likely to hold paranormal beliefs but are less likely to hold religious beliefs than they are (Bosveld et al., 1996; Dudley, 1999). Similarly, people


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

who engage in desirable health-protective behaviors (e.g., regular exercise, regular checkups, eating healthy foods), underestimate the number of other people who engage in similar behaviors (Suls et al., 1988). It appears that people overestimate consensus when it comes to their undesirable characteristics (false consensus), whereas they underestimate consensus when it comes to their desirable characteristics (false uniqueness). As noted in the previous section, they also overestimate consensus for their opinions and preferences. This mixture of overestimating and underestimating can be remembered easily by noting that all distortions are in the direction most helpful for self-esteem. That is, you can feel good about yourself if your opinions are correct, and one sign of correctness is that most people agree with you (so you overestimate consensus for opinions). You can feel good about yourself if your faults are ones that many people have (so overestimate consensus regarding faults). And you can feel especially good about yourself if your talents and virtues are rare, exceptional ones that few people can match (so underestimate consensus regarding good characteristics). Probably this pattern is no accident. As we saw in Chapter 3, people like to think well of themselves, and many patterns of bias and distortion help them achieve and maintain their favorable self-views.

statistical regression (regression to the mean) the statistical tendency for extreme scores or extreme behavior to be followed by others that are less extreme and closer to average

Statistical Regression In the 19th century, Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911) introduced the concept of statistical regression (also called regression to the mean), which refers to the statistical tendency for extreme scores or extreme behavior to return toward the average. In his study of men’s heights, Galton found that the tallest men usually had sons shorter than themselves, whereas the shortest men usually had sons taller than themselves. In both cases, the height of the children was less extreme than the height of the fathers. To make it onto the cover of a major sports magazine, such as Sports Illustrated, an athlete or team must perform exceptionally well in addition to being lucky. However, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated got the reputation of being a jinx because athletes consistently performed worse afterward. For example, the Kansas City Chiefs football team lost to the Cincinnati Bengals on November 17, 2003, right after the team’s previously undefeated season had been celebrated on the cover of that magazine. This loss has been blamed on the “Sports Illustrated jinx.” The belief in the Sports Illustrated jinx is so strong that some athletes have even refused to appear on the cover (Ruscio, 2002). Many people attribute the subsequent poor performance to internal factors rather than to chance (e.g., after appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, athletes feel so much pressure that they choke). But the “Sports Illustrated jinx” can also be explained by the concept of regression to the mean (Gilovich, 1991). The magazine puts a team or athlete on the cover after an exceptionally good performance, and regression to the mean dictates that in most cases the next performance won’t be as great, just as really short men don’t usually have sons who are even shorter. If the magazine instead used cover photos featuring teams that had performed unbelievably badly that week, the magazine would get a reputation as a miracle worker for improving a team’s luck and performance! But that too would be just a misunderstanding of regression to the mean. In summary, the key to regression to the mean is that when one selects an instance (or a group) for extreme performance, it is almost always true that one will have selected a more extreme instance than is warranted. When events deviate from the average, people are more likely to think about the bad exceptions than about the good exceptions (see Is Bad Stronger Than Good?). © Sports Illustrated/Time Inc.

Appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated has been considered a jinx, because athletic performance generally decreases after such exposure. However, the “Sports Illustrated jinx” is probably best explained by the concept of statistical regression.

Illusion of Control During the 1988 summer drought, retired farmer Elmer Carlson arranged a rain dance by 16 Hopis in Audubon, lowa. The next day an inch of rain fell. “The miracles are still here, we just need to ask for them,” explained Carlson (Associated Press,

Errors and Biases


Is Bad Stronger Than Good? Good News and Bad News A survey of what people think about concluded that they think more about bad things than good ones (Klinger et al., 1980). This may reflect the basic principle that one major evolutionary purpose of thinking is to decide how to respond when one’s goals are blocked. The most frequent topics of thought people reported were personal relationships that were threatened and projects that were encountering unexpected difficulties. Much thinking is guided by a search to explain something that has happened (Ditto & Lopez, 1992; Ditto, Munro, Apanovitch, Scepansky, & Lockhart, 2003). People are more concerned about finding explanations for bad events than for good events (Abele, 1985; Gilovich, 1983; Weiner, 1985). This is true even if both types of events are unexpected—that is, people think about unexpected bad things more than about unexpected good things (Abele, 1985). The same holds for thinking about one’s romantic and relationship partners: People think about and try to explain their partner’s bad actions more than their partner’s good actions (Holtzworth-Munroe & Jacobson, 1985). Thus, you are more likely to stop and wonder why your partner surprises you by saying something unusually nasty than if he or she surprises you by saying something unusually nice. Of course, the fact that people pay more attention to bad news and think about it more comes as no surprise to

illusion of control the false belief that one can influence certain events, especially random or chance ones

anyone familiar with the mass media. Journalists know that bad news will attract more attention than good news: “If it bleeds, it leads,” is a journalistic expression referring to the tendency for the top story to be one involving injury or death. Novelists know it as well. For example, there have been countless novels about marital conflict, divorce, and romantic breakups, but even the most talented novelists seem unable to produce a great book about a happy marriage. Hearing about people’s happiness is generally dull— perhaps because the mind is geared primarily toward figuring out bad things.

Newspapers often feature bad events rather than good ones.

1988). The belief that people can control totally chance situations is called the illusion of control (Langer, 1975; Langer & Roth, 1975). For example, gamblers in casinos who are playing craps often roll the dice harder for high numbers and softer for low numbers. People like to be in control of their own fate. The illusion of control may influence people to take more risks. For example, one study showed that traders working in investment banks who had an illusion of control took more risks and lost more money than other traders (Fenton-O’Creevy, Nicholson, Soane, & Willman, 2003).

Magical Thinking magical thinking thinking based on assumptions that don’t hold up to rational scrutiny

contamination when something becomes impure or unclean

Magical thinking is thinking based on assumptions that don’t hold up to rational scrutiny (Rozin & Nemeroff, 1990). One irrational assumption is that two objects that touch each other pass properties to one another. For example, people are afraid of wearing a sweater worn by an AIDS patient, though in reality there is no danger of getting AIDS from a garment. A second irrational assumption is that things that resemble each other share basic properties. For example, people are afraid of eating chocolate shaped like a spider. A third irrational assumption is that thoughts can influence the physical world. For example, college students are afraid that thinking about a professor calling on you in class makes it happen. The concept of contamination is related to the first two assumptions (Rozin, 1987). When people think their food is contaminated (e.g., by insects or human hair), they become disgusted. These disgust responses have been found in many cultures, including Israeli, Japanese, Greek, and Hopi (Rozin et al., 1997).


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

Counterfactual Thinking Counterfactual means “contrary to the facts.” Counterfactual thinking involves imagining alternatives to past or present factual events or circumstances (Kahneman & Tversky, 1982; Kahneman & Miller, 1986; Roese, 1997; Roese & Olson, 1995). Counterfactual thinking is familiar to everyone, even if they have not heard the term before. We have all thought about “what might have been,” if people had only behaved differently. What if you had studied harder in high school? What if your parents had never met? What if the other candidate had won the election? Douglas Hofstadter, cognitive science professor at Indiana University and author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, wrote, “Think how immeasurably poorer our mental lives would be if we didn’t have this creative capacity for slipping out of the midst of reality into soft ‘what ifs’!” (Hofstadter, 1979). A recent study on counterfactual thinking is directly relevant to students because it involves test-taking strategies (Krueger, Wirtz, & Miller, 2005). When taking multiplechoice tests, many students initially think that one of the answers is correct, and they choose it. After thinking about it more, however, they begin to doubt their so-called first instinct and think that another answer is even better. Are students better off going with their first answer, or should they switch their answer? About 75% of students think it is better to stick with their initial answer. Most college professors also believe that students should stick with their initial answer. Some test preparation guides also give the same advice: “Exercise great caution if you decide to change your answer. Experience indicates that many students who change answers change to the wrong answer” (Kaplan, 1999, p. 3.7). However, virtually all studies show that students are better off switching answers (see Krueger et al., 2005, for a review). Krueger and his colleagues have dubbed this tendency the first instinct fallacy. It is defined as the false belief that it is better not to change one’s first answer even if one starts to think a different answer is correct. So why do many students, professors, and test guide writers succumb to this fallacy? Research on counterfactual thinking can shed light on this issue. Assume that you got the answer wrong in the end and therefore engaged in counterfactual thinking about what you might have done to get it right. You’d probably feel the most regret if you had first written down the correct answer and then changed it to a wrong one. You’d feel less regret if you had first written the wrong answer and then refused to change it, because in that scenario you had never put down the right answer. Having first written the correct answer and then erased it makes you feel that you were so close to getting it correct that changing was a terrible mistake. Counterfactual thinking can envision outcomes that were either better or worse than what actually happened. Upward counterfactuals involve alternatives that are better than actuality, whereas downward counterfactuals are alternatives that are worse than actuality (Markman, Gavanski, Sherman, & McMullen, 1993; McMullen, Markman, & Gavanski, 1995). For example, when Fatima looks back on her honeymoon, she can think it could have gone better (e.g., “We should have gone to a more exotic place!”) or that it could have been worse (e.g., “Good thing we didn’t get robbed!”). People make far more upward than downward counterfactuals, which is probably a good thing because it causes people to consider how to make things better in the future (Roese & Olson, 1997). For example, if Eduardo looks back on his exam and regrets not studying harder so he could have earned a higher grade, he will probably study harder next time. In contrast, if Eduardo looks back on his exam with relief that he did not fail it, he probably will not study harder next time. Downward counterfactuals have their uses, of course. In particular, they help people feel better in the aftermath of misfortune (e.g., Taylor, 1983). When some© Roman Barnes

counterfactual thinking imagining alternatives to past or present events or circumstances

People are afraid of eating chocolates shaped liked spiders.

first instinct fallacy the false belief that it is better not to change one’s first answer on a test even if one starts to think a different answer is correct

upward counterfactuals imagining alternatives that are better than actuality downward counterfactuals imagining alternatives that are worse than actuality

Errors and Biases


thing bad happens, people say, “It could have been worse,” and contemplating those even more terrible counterfactuals is comforting. Ultimately, counterfactual thinking is probably one of the crucial traits that has helped people create and sustain the marvels of human society and culture. Most animals can barely perceive and understand the world as it is, but we can dream of how it can be different. Democracy, women’s liberation, and wireless technology did not exist in nature, but human beings were able to look at life as it was and imagine how it could be different, and these imaginings helped them change the world for the better. The concepts of counterfactual thinking and regret are sometimes used interchangeably. The two concepts are related, but they are not the same thing (Gilovich & Medvec, 1995). One important difference is that regrets are feelings, whereas counterfactuals are thoughts. Regret involves feeling sorry for misfortunes, limitations, losses, transgressions, shortcomings, or mistakes (Landman, 1993). The various cognitive errors discussed in this section are summarized in ● Table 5.3. ● Table 5.3

Common Cognitive Errors




Confirmation bias

The tendency to notice information that confirms one’s beliefs and to ignore information that disconfirms one’s beliefs.

Looking for evidence that your horoscope is true if you believe in astrology, and ignoring evidence that is inconsistent with your horoscope.

Conjunction fallacy

The tendency to see an event as more likely as it becomes more specific because it is joined with elements that seem similar to events that are likely.

If a man has a conservative ideology, people think it is less likely that he is a businessman than a Republican and a businessman.

Illusory correlation

The tendency to overestimate the link between variables that are related only slightly or not at all.

Believing that professional black athletes are dangerous (even if Mike Tyson bites off ears!).

Base rate fallacy

The tendency to ignore or underuse base rate information and instead to be influenced by the distinctive features of the case being judged.

Thinking that it is equally likely to have 60% of births be male in a small or a large hospital.

Gambler’s fallacy

The tendency to believe that a particular chance event is affected by previous events, and that chance events will “even out” in the short run.

Believing that one is more likely to get a heads on a coin toss after the sequence TTTTTTTTT than after the sequence THHTTHTHT.

False consensus effect

The tendency for people to overestimate the number of other people who share their opinions, attitudes, values, and beliefs.

Believing that most people have the same religious beliefs as you do.

False uniqueness effect

The tendency for people to underestimate the number of other people who share their most prized characteristics and abilities.

People who exercise regularly underestimate the number of other people who also exercise regularly.

Statistical regression

The statistical tendency for extreme scores or extreme behavior to return toward the average.

The Sports Illustrated jinx, in which athletic performance usually declines after appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated.



Chapter 5: Social Cognition

● Table 5.3—continued

Quiz Yourself 1.





Illusion of control

The belief that one can control totally chance situations.

When gamblers throw dice softly for low numbers and throw dice hard for high numbers.

Magical thinking

Thinking based on assumptions that don’t hold up to rational scrutiny.

Being afraid to eat chocolate shaped like bugs.

Counterfactual thinking

Imagining alternatives to past or present factual events or circumstances.

After getting in a car wreck, thinking “what if” I had gone home using a different route.

Errors and Biases

Tony is an 18-year-old gang member in Washington, DC, whose mother died when he was only 6 years old. Which of the following is most likely to be true? (a) Tony deals drugs, has (b) Tony has been involved been involved in three in three drive-by drive-by shootings, and shootings and visits his visits his grandmother grandmother every every Sunday. Sunday. (c) Tony visits his (d) All of the above are grandmother every equally likely. Sunday.


Which sequence of six coin flips is least likely to occur? (a) TTTTTT (b) TTTTTH (c) THTHTH (d) All of the above are equally likely to occur.


If you scored 99 out of 100 on your first social psychology exam, you are likely to score lower on the second exam, even if you are equally knowledgeable about the material on both exams. This is an example of _____. (a) base rate fallacy (b) confirmation bias (c) false uniqueness effect (d) regression to the mean

Gamblers who throw dice softly to get low numbers and who throw harder to get high numbers are demonstrating _____. (a) the base rate fallacy (b) the gambler’s fallacy (c) the illusion of control (d) regression to the mean Answers: 1=c, 2=c, 3=d, 4=d

Are People Really Idiots? “Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.” —Frank Zappa, musician and songwriter

Sometimes social cognition researchers are accused of perpetuating the idea that people are basically stupid. This is because researchers show that people make so many cognitive errors. Would nature have selected complete idiots to reproduce and pass on their genes to subsequent generations? We doubt it. Contrary to what Frank Zappa suggests, people are not basically stupid. The kinds of errors people make are not random—they are quite predictable. People don’t use logic when it comes to estimating the likelihood of uncertain events. They use psycho-logic instead. Because people are cognitive misers, they want quick and dirty answers to problems of uncertainty. They don’t want to compute probabilities in their heads or on their calculators. That is why people use heuristics. More often than not, heuristics provide the correct answers, or at least answers that are good enough.

Are People Really Idiots?


How Serious Are the Errors? When heuristics do result in errors, how bad are the errors? Social cognition researcher Susan Fiske (2004) has pointed out that the errors might not be as bad as we think they are. Some errors are trivial, such as when we buy the wrong brand of salsa or cereal. Other errors are self-correcting over time. For example, people overestimate how informative an extreme initial performance is of a person’s actual abilities. After listening to a brilliant violin solo, an audience member might conclude that the musician is a gifted violinist (even if subsequent solos are less brilliant). Or after watching a basketball player miss an important free throw, an audience member might conclude that the player typically chokes under pressure (even if he later hits some important free throws). People fail to consider the impact of regression to the mean on performances that follow extreme initial performances. Over time, however, these positive and negative errors even out and correct each other. Eventually, an observer can come to realize what a person’s true abilities are. It is possible that some errors may only occur in the social psychological laboratory—not in the real world. Other errors are corrected socially, such as when people give us feedback on what we did wrong. Still other errors can cancel each other out, if they occur in random combinations. Evolutionary psychologists have argued that when it comes to the really important decisions, those involving survival and reproduction, people make much better decisions (e.g., Cosmides, 1989; Cosmides & Tooby, 1996; Fiddick, Cosmides, & Tooby, 2000). Perhaps this is because they use the conscious system rather than the unconscious system when it comes to making important decisions. The quick and approximate answers provided by the unconscious system are not good enough, and people expend the mental energy required to make these important decisions.

Reducing Cognitive Errors

debiasing reducing errors and biases by getting people to use controlled processing rather than automatic processing

meta-cognition reflecting on one’s own thought processes

Even if the errors aren’t all that serious, who wants to make errors? Social psychologists have tried to identify factors that reduce cognitive errors. Graduate training in disciplines that teach statistical reasoning can improve decision-making ability. For example, graduate students in psychology and medicine do better on statistical, methodological, and conditional reasoning problems than do students in law and chemistry, who do not learn about statistical reasoning (Lehman, Lempert, & Nisbett, 1988). Even crash courses on statistical reasoning are helpful in reducing cognitive errors (e.g., Lopes, 1987; Williams, 1992). Making the information easier to process can also improve decision-making ability and reduce cognitive errors. For example, easy-to-understand food labels can help consumers make better food choices (Russo, Staelin, Nolan, Russell, & Metcalf, 1986). One of the most effective ways of debiasing people from the tendency to make cognitive errors is to get them to use controlled processing rather than automatic processing. Some examples include encouraging people to consider multiple alternatives (e.g., Hirt, Kardes, & Markman, 2004; Hirt & Markman, 1995; Sanna & Schwarz, 2003); encouraging people to rely less on memory (e.g., Arkes, 1991; Williams, 1992); encouraging people to use explicit decision rules (Arkes, 1991; Williams, 1992); encouraging people to search for disconfirmatory information (e.g., Kray & Galinsky, 2003); and encouraging people to use metacognition (e.g., Croskerry, 2003). Meta-cognition literally means analysis of cognitions. It is a reflective approach to problem solving that involves stepping back from the immediate problem to examine and reflect on the thinking process (Croskerry, 2003).


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

Quiz Yourself

Are People Really Idiots?


What system is mainly responsible for the cognitive errors that people make? (a) automatic system (b) controlled system (c) primary system (d) secondary system


Which type of graduate training is most effective in reducing cognitive errors? (a) Business (b) Chemistry (c) Law (d) Psychology


People make fewer cognitive errors when they are making decisions about _____. (a) trivial matters (e.g., (b) important matters (e.g., what brand of what major to select toothpaste to buy) in college) (c) very serious matters (d) None of the above; (e.g., survival and cognitive errors are the reproduction) same for the three types of matters.


The analysis of cognitions is called _____. (a) counterfactual thinking (b) explicit decision rules (c) meta-cognition (d) statistical reasoning

Answers: 1=a, 2=c, 3=d, 4=c

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective


he special or unique features of human psychology are readily visible in this chapter. Experts debate the question “Do animals think?” (that is, nonhuman animals), but the debate usually focuses on whether the very simple cognitive activities of animals, such as forming an expectancy and perceiving that it is violated, qualify as thinking. Only a few overly sentimental pet owners think that animals can formulate complex thoughts or understand long sentences—let alone begin to match the higher flights of human thought, such as in philosophical or religious contemplation, theories of physics and chemistry, poetry, epic narratives, or even arguments about why a football game turned out as it did. Only humans think in those ways. The remarkable power of human thought is seen not just in the use of symbolism, but in the combining of symbols. People use language to do most of their thinking, and human thought typically combines many small concepts into complex ideas, stories, or theories. A dog can learn several dozen one-word commands, but only humans can string together a long set of words to make sentences, paragraphs, long stories, speeches, or a book like this. The capacity to use language opens up new worlds of thought, as it lets people explore the linkages of meaning. People can do mathematical and financial calculations, conduct cost–benefit analyses, and reason logically. Without language, other animals can engage in only the very simplest, most trivial versions of those forms of thought, or none at all. The duplex mind is another distinctive feature of human thinking. Automatic processing is probably something both humans and animals have, but the powers of the conscious mind are more uniquely human. Only humans can perform the rulebased, systematic, precise thinking that the conscious system does, such as mathematical calculations, logical reasoning, and detailed cost–benefit comparisons of multiple options when facing a decision. The simple fact is that most complex patterns of thought are uniquely human. Humans can analyze a complex situation and make attributions about why something happened (and they can also debate with each other about those attributions, to reach a consensual explanation). Only humans use heuristics. False consensus and false uniqueness biases are limited to humans.

Chapter Summary


Only humans engage in counterfactual thinking, which can be extremely helpful in enabling people to change their behavior in the future. Only humans suffer agonies of rumination and regret about what might have been, but that same power of counterfactual thinking has been a crucial aid to human progress. Over the centuries, people have looked around them at the state of the world and imagined how it could be better. Nature did not give us schools, written language, dental care, recorded music, airplane travel, or the justice system, but counterfactual thinking has enabled people to dream of such improvements—and then to help them become reality. We saw in Chapter 3 that humans have a much more complex conception of self than other animals. This complex knowledge structure influences thought in many ways. Only humans will show self-serving biases or actor/observer differences, and only humans can learn to correct for these biases. The remarkable power of human thought creates both unique errors and unique capabilities to find the truth. In other words, the special properties of the human mind lead to both right and wrong answers that other animals wouldn’t get. Only humans can succumb to the base rate fallacy, because only humans can use base rates at all, and so only humans can learn to use base rates correctly. Only humans fall prey to the regression fallacy, but only humans can develop an accurate understanding of regression to the mean and can therefore learn to avoid the mistake. In short, most of the material in this chapter will be absent in a book on the psychology of other animals, because human cognition is generally unlike what is found in other species. This sweeping difference is quite unlike what we will see in the next chapter on emotion. That is because advanced cognitive processes are relatively new in evolution and specific to human beings, whereas emotion goes far back in evolution. Thus, many animals have emotional reactions that resemble human ones in crucial respects. Even so, the fact that we can think about our emotions (and their causes) is likely to change them, as we shall see. For humans and human social life, thinking changes almost everything.

Chapter Summary What Is Social Cognition? ●

Social cognition is the study of any sort of thinking by people about people and about social relationships. People think about other people more than any other topic, and probably more than about all other topics combined. The human mind is designed to participate in society, and this means its primary job is dealing with other people. People think about other people in order to be accepted by them, or to compete with them or avoid them. The term cognitive miser refers to people’s reluctance to do much extra thinking. People generally prefer to conserve effort by relying on automatic modes of thought when they can. Knowledge structures are organized packets of information that are stored in memory. Schemas are knowledge structures that represent substantial information about a concept, its attributes, and its relationships to other concepts. A violation of expectancies sparks conscious thinking.

● ●

Scripts are knowledge structures that contain information about how people (or other objects) behave under varying circumstances; scripts define situations and guide behavior. There are at least three main types of goals that guide how people think: ● Find the right answer to some problem or question. ● Reach a particular, preferred conclusion. ● Reach a pretty good answer or decision quickly. In the Stroop effect, the automatic response is to say the word rather than the ink color. The four elements that distinguish automatic from controlled processes are intention, effort, control, and efficiency. Priming is the tendency for frequently or recently activated concepts to come to mind more easily. Framing is how something is presented. Trying to suppress a thought can have the paradoxical effect of increasing the thought. In the counterregulation or “What the heck” effect, dieters eat more if they believe they have broken their diets than if they are hungry.


Chapter 5: Social Cognition

Attributions: Why Did That Happen? ●

Attributions are the inferences people make about events in their lives. Internal, stable attributions involve ability; internal, unstable attributions involve effort; external, stable attributions point to the difficulty of the task; and external, unstable attributions involve luck. The self-serving bias suggests that people want to take credit for success but deny blame for failure. The actor/observer bias states that actors tend to make external attributions, whereas observers make internal attributions. The fundamental attribution error (also sometimes called correspondence bias) refers to the finding that people have a bias to attribute another person’s behavior to internal or dispositional causes. The covariation principle states that for something to be the cause of a behavior, it must be present when the behavior occurs and absent when the behavior does not occur. The three types of covariation information are ● Consensus ● Consistency ● Distinctiveness

Heuristics: Mental Shortcuts ● ●

Heuristics are mental shortcuts or rules of thumb. The representativeness heuristic is the tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the extent to which it resembles the typical case. The availability heuristic is the tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the ease with which relevant instances come to mind. The simulation heuristic is the tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the ease with which you can imagine (or mentally simulate) an event. The anchoring and adjustment heuristic suggests that when people estimate how frequent or likely an event is, they use a starting point (called an anchor) and then make adjustments up and down from this starting point.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to notice information that confirms one’s beliefs and to ignore information that disconfirms one’s beliefs. An illusory correlation occurs when people overestimate the link between variables that are related only slightly or not at all. The mass media contribute to illusory correlations by focusing on rare events. The base rate fallacy is the tendency to ignore or underuse base rate information and instead to be influenced by the distinctive features of the case being judged. The gambler’s fallacy is the belief that a particular chance event is affected by previous events. The false consensus effect is the tendency to overestimate the number of people who share one’s opinions, attitudes, values, or beliefs. The false uniqueness effect (also called the better-thanaverage effect and the Lake Wobegon effect) describes the finding that people tend to underestimate the number of people who share their most prized characteristics and abilities. Statistical regression (also called regression to the mean) refers to the statistical tendency for extreme scores or extreme behavior to return toward the average. One major evolutionary purpose of thinking is to decide how to respond when one’s goals are blocked. The belief that people can control totally chance situations is called the illusion of control. The concept of contamination is related to ● The irrational assumption that two objects that touch each other pass properties to one another ● The irrational assumption that things that resemble each other share basic properties Counterfactual thinking involves imagining alternatives to past or present factual events or circumstances. Upward counterfactuals posit alternatives that are better than actuality, whereas downward counterfactuals posit alternatives that are worse than actuality. Regret involves feeling sorry for misfortunes, limitations, losses, transgressions, shortcomings, or mistakes. Regrets are feelings, whereas counterfactuals are thoughts.

Errors and Biases ●

Information overload is the state of having too much information to make a decision or remain informed about a topic. Estimation and shifting criteria can result in biased counts of sexual partners. People generally have access to two types of information: ● Statistical information from a large number of people ● Case history information from a small number of people People generally pay the most attention to case history information.

Are People Really Idiots? ●

More often than not, heuristics provide the correct answers, or at least answers that are good enough. Relying less on memory, considering multiple alternatives, using meta-cognition, searching for disconfirmatory information, and using explicit decision rules are all techniques that can reduce cognitive errors.

Chapter Summary


What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective ●

The remarkable power of human thought creates both unique errors and unique capabilities to find the truth.

> Key Terms actor/observer bias 158 anchoring and adjustment 163 attribution cube 159 attributions 156 availability heuristic 161 base rate fallacy 168 cognitive miser 148 confirmation bias 165 conjunction fallacy 167 consensus 159 consistency 159 contamination 171 counterfactual thinking 172 counterregulation 155 covariation principle 159 debiasing 175

distinctiveness 159 downward counterfactuals 172 false consensus effect 169 false uniqueness effect (better-than-average effect, Lake Wobegon effect) 169 first instinct fallacy 172 framing 153 fundamental attribution error (correspondence bias) 159 gambler’s fallacy 169 heuristics 161 illusion of control 171 illusory correlation 167 information overload 164 knowledge structures 151 magical thinking 171

meta-cognition 175 priming 153 representativeness heuristic 161 schemas 151 scripts 152 self-serving bias 157 simulation heuristic 162 social cognition 147 statistical regression (regression to the mean) 170 Stroop effect 150 Stroop test 149 ultimate attribution error 159 upward counterfactuals 172

> Media Learning Resources Make sure you check out the complete set of learning resources and study tools below. If your instructor did not order these items with your new book, go to to purchase Thomson Higher Education print and digital products. Social Psychology and Human Nature Book Companion Website Visit your book companion website, where you will find flash cards, practice quizzes, internet links, and more to help you study. Just what you need to know NOW! Spend time on what you need to master rather than on information you already have learned. Take a pretest for this chapter, and ThomsonNOW will generate a personalized study plan based on your results. The study plan will identify the topics you need to review and direct you to online resources to help you master those topics. You can then take a post-test to help you determine the concepts you have mastered and what you will still need to work on. Try it out! Go to to sign in with an access code or to purchase access to this product. Classic and Contemporary Videos Student CD-ROM To see videos on the topics and experiments discussed in this chapter and to learn more about the research that social psychologists are doing today, go to the Student CD-ROM. Social Psych Lab These unique online labs give you the opportunity to become a participant in actual experiments, including re-creations of classic and contemporary research studies.










Emotion and Affect What Is Emotion? Conscious Emotion Versus Automatic Affect

Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Names for Emotions Emotional Arousal James–Lange Theory of Emotion Cannon–Bard Theory of Emotion Schachter–Singer Theory of Emotion Misattribution of Arousal

The Social Side of Sex: Can People Be Wrong About Whether They Are Sexually Aroused? Some Important Emotions Happiness

(Anticipated) Emotion Guides Decisions and Choices Emotions Help and Hurt Decision Making Positive Emotions Counteract Negative Emotions Other Benefits of Positive Emotions Individual Differences in Emotion Are Emotions Different Across Cultures? Are Women More Emotional Than Men? Arousal, Attention, and Performance Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Affect Regulation


How to Cheer Up

Tradeoffs: Affect Intensity, or the Joys of Feeling Nothing

Affect Regulation Goals

Guilt and Shame Why Do We Have Emotions? Emotions Promote Belongingness Emotions Cause Behavior—Sort Of

Food for Thought: Mood and Food

Gender Differences in Emotion Control Strategies Is It Safe?

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective Chapter Summary



Emotions Guide Thinking and Learning


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect


Courtesy of Brad Turcotte

After being bombarded with lots of spam e-mail, Brad Turcotte organized a compilation CD called Outside the Inbox, in which he and other musicians wrote songs based on the subject lines of spam e-mail, such as “Look and Feel Years Younger.”

Courtesy of Brad Turcotte

Reprinted by permission of Atlantic Feature Syndicate.

pam or junk e-mail messages are the plague of the digital age. Filters don’t seem to work either. We all get plenty of spam each day, and we waste a lot of time deleting these junk e-mail messages. The flood of spam is enough to make anyone fuming mad! Or is it? People respond to spam very differently. Consider two real people who appeared in the news for how they responded to spam. The first story is about Charles Booher, a 44-year-old Silicon Valley computer programmer (Tanner, 2003). Booher was arrested for threatening to torture and kill employees of the company who bombarded his computer with spam ads promising to enlarge his penis. According to prosecutors, Booher threatened to mail a “package full of Anthrax spores” to the company; to “disable” an employee with a bullet and torture him with a power drill and ice pick; and to hunt down and castrate the employees unless they removed him from their e-mail list. Booher used intimidating return e-mail addresses including [email protected]. He admitted that he had behaved badly, but said that he did so because the company had rendered his computer almost unusable for about two months by a barrage of pop-up advertising and e-mail messages. Booher was arrested for the threats he made, but was released on $75,000 bond. The second story is about a 26-year-old musician from Ottawa named Brad Turcotte (Whyte, 2003). Like the rest of us, Turcotte is bombarded with spam e-mail. He said, “I was just staring at my inbox one day and looking at all these ridiculous subject lines”—such as Feel Better Now, Look and Feel Years Younger, and Do You Measure Up, to name but a few—”and I started thinking that some of these were pretty surreal and bizarre. And at the same time, I had been having trouble coming up with titles for some of my songs, so I started thinking that maybe there was something here.” As a one-man band called Brad Sucks, Brad Turcotte wrote and recorded a song called “Look and Feel Years Younger.” He recruited other musicians through the Internet to write additional songs, and assembled a CD of 14 songs titled Outside the Inbox. He sells the CDs on the Internet, and so far he has sold hundreds of CDs and hundreds of thousands of downloads. “I was surprised that so many people caught on to it,” he said. “I thought it might just be a fun, goofy thing to do. It only occurred to me afterwards, oh, right, everyone gets this. Everyone in the world. How could I forget?” Both men had the same problem and the same negative emotional reaction, but they coped with it very differently. Neither could get rid of the anger or irritation by simply deciding to feel better, and so they both ended up having to do something. In one case the anger led to violent, possibly dangerous responses, but in the other it led to positive, creative responses. Emotional states are often so compelling that we struggle to feel good—these struggles range from the creative to the criminal. Emotions make life rich and colorful, and they influence how people act, though not always in a good way (e.g., crimes of passion!). They still pose something of a mystery. Why do people have emotions? Why is the emotion system set up the way it is? We will try to answer these important questions in this chapter. One clue is that emotions are mostly outside our conscious control, even though we may feel them consciously. (That’s why neither Booher nor Turcotte could just shrug off their anger and feel good.) Emotions provide a feedback system. They bring us information about the world and about our activities in it. They reward and punish us, and so we learn to set up our lives so as to avoid bad emotions and to maximize good emotions. Consider guilt as an example. Guilt helps us know we did something wrong. To avoid

What Is Emotion?


guilt, people may change their behavior in advance: They may try to keep their promises, obey the rules, treat other people kindly, and so on. If people could escape guilt just by deciding not to feel guilty, there would be less need to behave well in order to avoid guilt. If you could control your emotions, then anytime you started to feel guilty, you could just turn those feelings off and everything would be fine (at least as far as how you feel is concerned). Guilt can give us feedback and guide our behavior, but only if it and similar emotions are outside of our conscious control.

What Is Emotion? Everyone knows what an emotion is, until asked to give a definition. —Beverly Fehr and James Russell (1984, p. 484)

emotion a conscious evaluative reaction to some event

mood a feeling state that is not clearly linked to some event

affect the automatic response that something is good or bad

It turns out to be fiendishly difficult to provide a definition of emotion, or even to provide several definitions of distinct concepts related to emotion. Some psychologists use the terms emotion, affect, and mood interchangeably, whereas others treat the terms as distinct concepts. The most common definitions emphasize emotion as a full-blown, conscious state that includes an evaluative reaction to some event. Emotion is thus a reaction to something, and the person who has the emotion knows it. In contrast, mood is sometimes defined as a feeling state that is not clearly linked to some event. You may not know why you are in a good or bad mood, but you do know that you feel happy or sad. The third concept, affect (pronounced ‘AF-ekt; note that this word is a noun, not a verb, which is pronounced -’fekt), is sometimes defined as a result of mapping all emotions onto a single good–bad dimension. Positive affect encompasses all good emotions, such as joy, bliss, love, and contentment. Negative affect encompasses all bad emotions, such as anger, anxiety, fear, jealousy, and grief. Most researchers argue that positive and negative affect are separate dimensions, not opposite ends of the same dimension (e.g., Cacioppo & Gardner, 1999; Watson & Clark, 1991, 1992; Watson & Tellegen, 1985). Other writers use affect to refer to emotion-type reactions that can occur regardless of consciousness. It makes no sense to say that someone is happy but doesn’t know it; in that sense, the conscious feeling is the essence of the emotion. Still, some affective reactions can occur without consciousness. You can have a quick positive or negative feeling about something as simple as a word without being fully conscious of it. Is Bad Stronger Than Good? talks about whether negative emotions are stronger than positive ones.

Conscious Emotion Versus Automatic Affect

conscious emotion a powerful and clearly unified feeling state, such as anger or joy automatic affect a quick response of liking or disliking toward something

Regardless of how people use the terms emotion, mood, and affect, two quite different phenomena need to be distinguished. These correspond roughly to the two chambers of the duplex mind. One is conscious emotion, which is felt as a powerful, single (unified) feeling state. The other refers to the automatic affect: responses of liking or disliking, of good and bad feelings toward something. These may be mixed (unlike the unity of conscious emotion) and may occur outside of consciousness. We will use the term emotion to refer to the conscious reaction, often including a bodily response, to something. In contrast, we use the term affect to refer to the automatic response that something is good or bad (liking versus disliking). Affective reactions to things that are “good” and “bad” are automatic and very fast, occurring in the first microseconds of thought. As soon as you know what something is, you start to know whether you like or dislike it (Goleman, 1995b). This initial evaluation even occurs for things people have never encountered before, such as nonsense words like “juvalamu” (Bargh, Chaiken, Raymond, & Hymes, 1996). In contrast, full-blown emotion takes time.


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

Is Bad Stronger Than Good? Names for Emotions Are bad emotions stronger than good ones? The question cannot be answered simply, because of course any emotion can range in power from very strong to very weak. Still, there are some signs that bad emotions have more influence and importance than do good emotions. One sign comes from language. Indeed, sometimes a culture is studied from its language. This way to study a culture is called anthropolinguistics. People develop words to talk about things that matter to them. The emotion researcher James Averill (1980) went through English language dictionaries to make an exhaustive list of all the words for emotion. The resulting list contained a staggering total of 558 emotion words. (Do you think you have felt 558 different emotions?) Then he asked research participants to rate each one as good or bad. If good and bad emotions were equally important and powerful, there ought to be about 50% of each. Instead, he found that 62% of the words referred to bad emotions, as compared to only 38% for good emotions. Apparently people need more words for bad emotions than for good ones.

anthropolinguistics the study of a culture by examining its language

There is no point in trying to decide whether automatic affect or conscious emotion is more important. Both are important, and it would be a mistake to assume that everything we learn about one of them applies to the other as well. Emotions have both mental and physical aspects. In the next section we explore the physical aspects of emotional arousal.

What Is Emotion?


Conscious is to unconscious as _____ is to _____. (a) affect; emotion (b) emotion; affect (c) affect; mood (d) mood; affect


Affect is generally mapped onto _____ dimensions. (a) good and bad (b) masculine and feminine (c) specific and universal (d) strong and weak


Affective reactions to things that are “good” and “bad” generally occur in the first _____ of thought. (a) microseconds (b) seconds (c) minutes (d) hours


In the English language, words describing negative emotions and traits are _____ words describing positive emotions and traits. (a) less common than (b) about as common as (c) more common than (d) It is impossible to tell because linguistic analyses are inconclusive and produce contradictory results.

Answers: 1=b, 2=a, 3=a, 4=c

Quiz Yourself

In another study, Averill (1980) had participants go through an exhaustive list of 555 personality traits and sort them by whether they referred to emotional traits (e.g., hot-tempered, happy) or nonemotional traits (hardworking, honest). He also then consulted data as to whether they were positive or negative, according to how participants had rated the trait for likability. On nonemotional traits, there were slightly more positive ones than negative ones (57% to 43%), but on the emotional traits, there was a strong majority of negative ones (74% to 26%). Bad emotions also seem to come to mind more easily. One research team (Van Goozen & Frijda, 1993) got participants living in seven different countries to write down as many emotion words as they could think of within five minutes. (That is a common procedure for seeing what comes to mind most easily.) They then tallied which 12 words were most common in each country. The most common ones everywhere were anger, sadness, fear, and joy (three bad versus one good). Moreover, for every country except the Netherlands, the 12 most common terms contained more bad emotions than good ones.

Emotional Arousal


Emotional Arousal

arousal a physiological reaction, including faster heartbeat and faster or heavier breathing, linked to most conscious emotions

James–Lange theory of emotion the proposition that the bodily processes of emotion come first and the mind’s perception of these bodily reactions then creates the subjective feeling of emotion

One reason that people are fascinated by emotions is that they bridge the mind and the body. Emotions have both mental aspects (such as subjective feelings and interpretations) and physical aspects (such as a racing heartbeat or tears). The challenge is to say how the mental and physical aspects of emotion are linked together. One important area of connection involves the bodily response of arousal, which is linked to most conscious emotions, though not necessarily to automatic affect. Arousal is a kind of speed-up within the body, including a faster heartbeat and faster or heavier breathing. We will say more about it as we cover the competing theories.

James–Lange Theory of Emotion In 1884, American psychologist William James and Danish psychologist Carl Lange proposed a theory linking the mental and physical aspects of emotion (James, 1884). Their theory, called the James–Lange theory of emotion, was described by James (1890) as follows: My theory . . . is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion. Common sense says: we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect, . . . we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and not that we cry, strike, or tremble, because we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be. (James, 1884, p. 190, italics in original)

Terry Doyle/Getty Images

James and Lange proposed that the bodily processes of emotion come first, and then the mind’s perception of these bodily reactions creates the subjective feeling of emotion (see ● Figure 6.1). When something happens, your body and brain supposedly perceive it and respond to it, and these physiological events form the basis for the emotion you feel. Researchers tried for many years to prove the James–Lange theory, but were largely unsuccessful. One important aspect of the theory is that different emotions must arise from different bodily responses. Data from many studies suggested, however, that the body seemed to have a very similar response in all different emotions. Whatever emotion the person felt, the body just showed a standard arousal pattern. Even tears, for example, are not just limited to sadness, because people sometimes cry when they are happy or angry or afraid, and many others do not cry when they are sad. Tears are not therefore just a sign of sadness, but more likely a sign of intense feeling. The James–Lange theory did, however, inspire the contemporary facial feedback hypothesis (e.g., Tomkins, 1962; Izard, 1971, 1990). According to the facial feedback hypothesis, feedback from the face muscles evokes or magnifies emotions. Several studies have found support for this hypothesis. One of the cleverest manipulations of facial feedback consisted of having participants hold a pen in either their lips or their teeth while rating cartoons (Strack, Martin, & Stepper, 1988). This sounds like a trivial difference, but try it: When you hold the pen between your teeth, your face is forced into something like a smile, whereas when you hold it between your lips, your

The mind–body problem.

facial feedback hypothesis the idea that feedback from the face muscles evokes or magnifies emotions

● Figure 6.1

James–Lange theory of emotion: The emotional stimulus (e.g., hearing footsteps behind you in a dark alley) produces physiological arousal (e.g., increased heart rate), which then produces an experienced emotion (e.g., fear).

Emotional Stimulus

Physiological Arousal

Experienced Emotion


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

face resembles a frown. The facial feedback hypothesis holds that if you are smiling, you will enjoy things more than if you are frowning, and this is what the study found. Participants who held the pen in their teeth thought the cartoons were funnier than did participants who held the pen in their lips. Thus, if you put on a happy face, you will be happier and enjoy external events more.

Cannon–Bard Theory of Emotion

Thalamus Hypothalamus Midbrain Pons Medulla oblongata

Spinal cord

● Figure 6.2

Diagram of the human brain.

Walter Cannon, a Harvard physiologist, and his colleague Philip Bard proposed an alternate theory of emotion (Bard, 1934; Cannon, 1927). The thalamus plays a central role in their theory. The thalamus (see ● Figure 6.2) is the part of the brain that is like a relay station for nerve impulses. Information from the emotional stimulus Cerebrum goes to the thalamus. From the thalamus, the information is relayed both to the cerebral cortex, which produces the experience Corpus cellosum of emotion, and to the hypothalamus and autonomic nervous system, which produces the increase in physiological arousal (see ● Figure 6.3). Suppose that you are walking down a dark alley in a dangerous part of Cerebrum town late one night, and you hear footsteps behind you. According to the Cannon–Bard theory of emotion, the thalamus will send two messages at the same time: one message that produces the emotional experience “fear,” and one message that produces an increase in physiological arousal (e.g., heart rate, breathing rate).

Schachter–Singer Theory of Emotion Cannon–Bard theory of emotion the proposition that emotional stimuli activate the thalamus, which then activates both the cortex, producing an experienced emotion, and the hypothalamus and autonomic nervous system, producing physiological arousal

Schachter–Singer theory of emotion the idea that emotion has two components: a bodily state of arousal and a cognitive label that specifies the emotion

● Figure 6.3

Cannon–Bard theory of emotion: The emotional stimulus (e.g., hearing footsteps behind you in a dark alley) activates the thalamus. The thalamus sends two messages at the same time: one message to the cortex, which produces an experienced emotion (e.g., fear), and one message to the hypothalamus and autonomic nervous system, which produces physiological arousal (e.g., increased heart rate).

Modern social psychology has been greatly influenced by a theory put forward by Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer in the early 1960s (Schachter & Singer, 1962; Schachter, 1964). They proposed that emotion has two components (see ● Figure 6.4). One component, physiological arousal, is similar in all emotions. The other component, the cognitive label, is different for each emotion. The arousal is the mix of feelings you get when your sympathetic nervous system is activated: the heart beats faster, more blood flows to the muscles and brain, the bronchioles in the lungs dilate so that more oxygen goes into the blood, and so on. The feeling of nervousness, such as when you are ready for a big test or a major public performance, is what it is like to have arousal by itself. Nervousness is thus a kind of generic emotional state (emotion without the label). In the Schachter–Singer theory of emotion, emotion is something like a television program. The arousal is the on/off switch and volume control: It determines

Emotional Stimulus

Experienced Emotion

Physiological Arousal

Emotional Arousal


● Figure 6.4

Schachter–Singer theory of emotion. The emotional stimulus (e.g., hearing footsteps behind you in a dark alley) produces physiological arousal (e.g., increased heart rate) and a cognitive label, which produces an experienced emotion (e.g., fear).

Emotional Stimulus

Physiological Arousal

Cognitive Label

Experienced Emotion

that there is going to be an emotion, and how strong it will be. The cognitive label is like the channel switch: It dictates which emotion will be felt. A key issue in all these theories (James–Lange, Cannon–Bard, and Schachter– Singer) is how the mind deals with the body’s arousal state. Sometimes the mind might not realize that the body is aroused, or why. The Social Side of Sex discusses this problem in connection with a particularly interesting form of arousal—sexual arousal. Read the box to find out more about how sexual arousal is related to emotions!

Misattribution of Arousal

excitation transfer the idea that arousal from one event can transfer to a later event

The intriguing thing about the Schachter–Singer theory is that it allows for arousals to be mislabeled or relabeled. That is, an arousal may arise for one reason but get another label, thereby producing a different reaction. For example, someone may not realize that what he or she is drinking has caffeine (e.g., if you think that you have decaffeinated tea when in reality it has caffeine; some aspirin products also contain caffeine), which may create an arousal state. The mind then searches for a label to make sense of the emotional state. If something frustrating happens, someone who has this extra, unexplained arousal may get much angrier than he or she would otherwise. This process is called excitation transfer (e.g., Zillmann, 1979): The arousal from the first event (drinking caffeinated tea) transfers to the second event (frustration). There have been several important experimental demonstrations of mislabeling or relabeling arousal. In Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer’s original studies (Schachter & Singer, 1962), participants were told that the researchers were studying the “effects of vitamin injections on visual skills.” By the flip of a coin, participants received either an adrenaline (epinephrine) injection or a placebo (saline solution, which has no effects; it was included just to control for any effects of having someone stick a needle into your arm) injection. Adrenaline is a stimulant that causes your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate to increase. Participants who received the adrenaline shot were either informed or not informed about the “side effects” of the drug (e.g., it causes heart pounding, trembling hands, etc.). Next, participants were exposed to a confederate who acted either happy and joyous (by playing with paper, rubber bands, pencils, folders, and hula hoops) or angry and resentful (with the aid of a questionnaire that asked many nosy, offensive questions, such as “Which member of your immediate family does not bathe or wash regularly?”). The researchers secretly observed to see whether the participant would join in and show similar emotion. The strongest emotional reactions were found among the people who had both received the stimulant, rather than the placebo, and been told that the injection would not have any side effects. (If they received the stimulant and were told that it was a stimulant, then they attributed their arousal state to the injection rather than to the situation, and so they did not label it as an emotional state.)


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

The Social Side of Sex Can People Be Wrong About Whether They Are Sexually Aroused? Sexual arousal is one form of arousal. You might think it is simpler and clearer than emotional arousal because emotional arousal can be associated with such a wide spectrum of emotions, whereas sexual arousal is specific and focused. Yet sexual arousal has its ambiguities too. One source of ambiguity is that the brain and the genitals are not always on the same page. Sexual stimulation may affect the brain, or the genitals, or neither, or both. There is some sign that the disconnect between the brain and the genitals is larger among women than men. That is, the link between self-reported arousal (that is, whether people think they are sexually turned on) and physiological measures of sexual arousal in the genitals are correlated about .60 in men but only about .25 in women (Chivers, 2003). Remember, correlations range in size from +/-1 (a perfect, exact match) to 0 (completely unrelated, no connection at all). There is plenty of room for divergence in both genders, especially if the person’s attitudes prescribe certain reactions that differ from what the body finds exciting. In one classic study (Adams, Wright, & Lohr, 1996), men’s feelings about homosexuality were surveyed, and researchers chose men who were the most tolerant of gay sex and others who were most strongly opposed to it. Then all the participants watched some films of homosexual men having sex with each other. The researchers measured both the feelings the men had while watching these films and their physiological

response. The latter test used a device (called the penile plethysmograph) that wraps a rubber band around the penis to measure whether it starts to get an erection. The two measures yielded opposite findings. The men who had said they were most strongly opposed to homosexuality reported that they did not like the gay films at all and that they were not turned on. The physiological data, however, showed that those men were the ones most aroused by those films. This finding lends support to the view that homophobia or anti-gay prejudice is strongest among men who may themselves have homosexual tendencies but find these unacceptable. They react against their own homosexual feelings by claiming to hate gay sex and to find it disgusting. A comparable finding emerged from research on sex guilt in women (Morokoff, 1985). In this work, women watched sexually explicit film clips. Women with high levels of sex guilt reported on questionnaires that they did not enjoy the films, and they rated their sexual arousal to the films as lower than any other women in the study. However, physiological measures of arousal—which assess the degree of lubrication in the vagina (measured using a device called a vaginal photoplethysmograph)—indicated that these women were actually more aroused than the other women in the study. Those who claim to be turned off by erotic films are actually likely to be turned on by them.

Perhaps the best-known demonstration of mislabeling arousal was a study done in Vancouver, where people can cross a scenic but scary bridge hanging by cords over a deep gorge (Dutton & Aron, 1974). According to the authors, the bridge has many features that might be arousing, such as “(a) a tendency to tilt, sway, and wobble, creating the impression that one is about to fall over the side; (b) very low handrails of wire cable which contribute to this impression; and (c) a 230-foot drop to rocks and shallow rapids below the bridge” (Dutton & Aron, 1974, p. 511). The “control condition” bridge located further up river was made of heavy cedar wood, did not tilt or sway, had sturdy handrails, and was only a few feet above a small stream. The researchers stationed an attractive woman on the bridge, and she approached men who were crossing the bridge to ask them to complete a short questionnaire. After participants completed the questionnaire, the attractive female offered to explain the study in more detail when she had more time. She tore off a corner of a sheet of paper and wrote down her name and phone number and invited each participant to call her if he wanted to talk further. The measure was whether the men called the female researcher. The reasoning was that crossing the bridge would create an arousal state of fear, and then a conversation with a beautiful woman would lead them to label their fear-based arousal as attraction to her. Sure enough, the men who had crossed the suspension bridge were more likely to call the female researcher than were men who had crossed the stable bridge. The researchers proposed that fear can be converted into love.

Emotional Arousal


Ted Streshinsky/Corbis

Perhaps you can use excitation transfer theory to improve your love life! Take your lover on an exciting date, such as to an amusement park or an action-packed movie, and then kiss him or her. According to excitation transfer theory, the arousal from the amusement ride or movie will transfer to raise your date’s attraction to you. Is the bodily arousal state really the same in all emotions? Subsequent research suggested that there is not just one single state underlying all emotions. More plausibly, there are at least two basic arousal states that feel quite different. One of these is pleasant and the other unpleasant. Many research studies have been done with neutral states, such as someone receiving caffeine or another stimulant, and it does seem that these states can be converted into almost any emotion, good or bad. However, emotional arousal that comes from actual events, generated by the body in response to experience rather than chemically induced, is usually already either good or bad. “Good” arousal cannot be converted into “bad” arousal, nor can “bad” arousal be converted into “good” arousal (Marshall & Zimbardo, 1979; Maslach, 1979). Some studies have explicitly shown that when people experience pleasant arousal, they will not misattribute that state as an unpleasant emotion, or vice versa (Zanna, Higgins, & Taves, 1976). Indeed, the only study that seems to suggest a successful conversion of a bad emotion into a good one is the Vancouver suspension bridge study described earlier (Dutton & Aron, 1974), and even this study is ambiguous. Remember, the key measure of attraction was whether the men called the woman, and this did not occur until much later. There is no way of knowing when they decided they liked the woman enough to call her—on the bridge, just after the bridge, or even the next day when remembering the experience. The notion that fear converted into love may be a misinterpretation of that study—maybe it was the relief or elation or bravado they felt after crossing the bridge that was converted into love. If so, then the results indicated converting one positive emotion into another, which would be more in line with subsequent findings. If there are two types of naturally occurring arousal states—one good and one bad— the explanation of why real, everyday emotions can’t be converted may lie with automatic affect. Remember, conscious emotion takes time to build, but automatic affect arises quickly. If an arousal starts to build to form the basis for a conscious emotional reaction, it will be shaped by the automatic reaction, and so it too will feel good or bad. Hence, it will be hard to relabel a bad emotion as a good one, or vice versa. Converting one positive emotion into a different positive one, such as turning joy into pride, will be much easier. A warning to the wise: Always watch out for emotional overreactions fueled by caffeine!

Capilano Canyon Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The bridge is 450 feet long, 5 feet wide, and hangs 230 feet above a rocky gorge. Men who had crossed this bridge were more likely to call a female research assistant than were men who had crossed a low, stable bridge (Dutton & Aron, 1974).

Emotional Arousal


Which theory of emotion predicts that we are angry because we hit someone? (a) Cannon–Bard (b) James–Lange (c) Schachter–Singer (d) None of the above


Which theory of emotion predicts that arousal from an event can be mislabeled? (a) Cannon–Bard (b) James–Lange (c) Schachter–Singer (d) None of the above


Tyrone had a stressful day at the office, so he stopped at the gym on the way home to work out. Even after he gets home, Tyrone still feels wound up. When his wife

remarks in passing that he forgot to take out the trash, Tyrone responds by yelling and cursing at his wife. Tyrone’s overreaction to his wife’s comment illustrates _____. (a) catharsis (b) disinhibition (c) desensitization (d) excitation transfer 4.

How many basic arousal states are there? (a) One (b) Two (c) Three (d) Four

Answers: 1=b, 2=c, 3=d, 4=b

Quiz Yourself


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

Some Important Emotions In this section we describe four important emotions: (a) happiness, (b) anger, (c) guilt, and (d) shame. In reading about each of these emotions, it is helpful to think back to one of this textbook’s most important themes—namely, that inner processes serve interpersonal functions. To be sure, some emotions may serve more basic biological needs, especially survival and reproduction. But even there, people mainly achieve survival and reproduction by forming and maintaining good relationships with other people. Hence, for example, we should not ask, How could feeling guilty ever benefit the person who feels that way? Instead, it will be more enlightening to ask, How does feeling guilty help a person maintain good relationships with others?

Happiness One of the most compelling works of fiction to emerge from the Cold War is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The main character has been sent to a prison labor camp in Siberia for 10 years, and he knows there is no guarantee that he will actually be released when his time is up. The situation is bleak. No family or loved ones ever visit him, and he is only allowed two letters per year. He has to work hard outdoors in freezing temperatures, with worn-out clothes that leave his fingers and toes constantly numb. No entertainment, not even anything to read. Sleeping on a rock-hard bed in a room full of other prisoners. Never a glimpse of a woman. Hardly any chance of escape, and anyone who did manage to escape would probably just freeze to death in the vast empty land. Yet on the last page of the book, the hero looks back on his day (remember, the whole book covers just one ordinary day in the middle of his 10-year prison sentence) and reflects that he was pretty lucky—it was “almost a happy day.” He falls into a contented sleep. How could someone have an “almost happy day” in a Siberian prison camp? The writer’s goal was to draw attention to the millions of Russians who suffered terribly in the prison camp system. This is what made the story brilliant: Instead of describing a day that was totally awful, the author presented a relatively “good day” in such a miserable setting. The story shows the power of comparisons and expectations. If you expect the worst—and as a Siberian prisoner you would soon come to expect that—then anything slightly better than the very worst can seem quite good by contrast. The good events that surpassed his expectations seem pathetic to most of us. His dinner was two bowls of bad oatmeal, instead of one; he had avoided the worst work assignments; he had managed to get a little tobacco (the camp’s only luxury); and he had found a small piece of metal, not useful for anything he could readily imagine, but maybe it might someday come in handy in some unknown way.

affect balance the frequency of positive emotions minus the frequency of negative emotions

life satisfaction an evaluation of how one’s life is generally, and how it compares to some standard

Defining Happiness. What is happiness, and how can it be reached? The term happiness is used at several different levels. One form of happiness is probably shared by human beings and many animals, and it refers simply to feeling good right now. When you get something to eat, or you warm up in the sun after being cold, you feel good, and you react with happy feelings. Other forms of happiness are unique to human beings, in part because they involve a broader time span and the meaningful integration of multiple experiences. Thus, someone might be a happy person because he enjoys many positive emotional experiences, or because she hardly ever feels bad emotions. Indeed, one measure of happiness is affect balance: the frequency of positive emotions minus the frequency of negative emotions. The most complex form of happiness is sometimes called life satisfaction. It involves not only evaluating how your life is generally, but also comparing it to some standard. Probably most animals can feel good or bad, but only humans have life satisfaction, because only humans can think meaningfully about their life as a whole and decide whether it lives up to their hopes and goals. Life satisfaction has a much broader time span than current emotion and affect balance.

Some Important Emotions


Objective Roots of Happiness. What would make you happy? Most people answer this question by referring to objective circumstances. They think they would be happy if they had something along these lines: money, a good job, a happy marriage or at least a good relationship, perhaps children, good health, and a nice place to live. These are called objective predictors, because they refer to objective aspects of one’s life. With one exception, they are correct, because people who do have those things are happier than people who do not have them. Note that most of those objective predictors involve succeeding by biological and cultural standards. Thus, if people strive to feel good, they will do things that the culture values (such as marrying and succeeding at a good job), and if everyone were to do those things, the culture would thrive and flourish. The one odd exception is having children. Couples who have children are less happy than couples who do not have children (e.g., Twenge, Campbell, & Foster, 2003). The drop in happiness has been shown repeatedly, with many different research samples and methods. It goes against intuitive beliefs, and in fact most parents expect that having children will increase their happiness. What’s more, they continue to believe that having children has made them happier, even though the research clearly shows otherwise. Most likely this is because parenthood is riddled with self-deception and illusion. Parents do not want to believe that they made a big mistake by having children, and they also want to rationalize the efforts and sacrifices they have made. Having children is, however, a powerful source of meaning in life (Baumeister, 1991), so that even if becoming a parent does not increase happiness (in fact lowers it), it does make life richer and more meaningful. Culture plays a big role in all this. Nearly all cultures encourage people to have children, and toward that end they help promote the idea (even when false) that having children will make you happy. If enough people expect to become happy by having babies, the culture will increase in population, which cultures have generally found to be advantageous. Cultures that do not produce new generations will not survive, and so nearly all successful cultures encourage reproduction. Moreover, cultures compete against others, and at some very basic level, those that have more people will triumph over those with fewer. It is not surprising that most cultures glorify parenthood, or at least motherhood, and bestow social approval on those who reproduce most. For a while, the Soviet Union gave medals to women who had the most children. This may seem odd, but it is merely a more explicit form of approval than is found all over the world. Most likely it was motivated by urgent pragmatic forces: The Soviet Union suffered more deaths than any other country during World War II, and so replenishing the population was more badly needed there than in other countries. Giving medals to mothers was simply a logical extension of a basic value that almost all cultures embrace. The fact that having children reduces happiness may in fact be a fairly recent, modern phenomenon (e.g., Baumeister, 1991). Throughout most of history, most people were farmers, and they lived in societies that offered no social security systems, pensions, or other means of support. When you grew too old to work the farm, you would starve, unless you had children to take over the farm and support you. Childlessness was a disaster for a married couple, in terms of their practical and economic prospects. Only when the family changed from an economic unit to a haven of intimate relationships did the impact of parenthood shift to become more negative. Many readers are worried when they read that having children is likely to reduce happiness in life. Don’t be! Most people want to have children, and do, and end up glad they did, even though along the way they are less happy than they would otherwise have been. As we saw in Chapter 3, the human mind is very good at forgetting bad things and emphasizing good ones. Also, if you want to reduce the negative effect on happiness, you can take several steps. The first is to have a stable relationship so as not to suffer the added stresses of being a single parent. The second is to prolong the “newlywed” phase of life between marriage and birth of first child, rather than rushing into parenthood. That phase may allow the relationship to become stronger, enabling it to better withstand the stresses of parenthood. (Also, many studies have

Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

confirmed that the interval between the wedding day and the birth of the first child is one of life’s happiest times, especially for women; e.g., Campbell, 1981) Third, save up some money, which can be used to cover new expenses and thereby reduce some of the stresses that parenthood puts on the couple. The surprising thing about the objective predictors of happiness, however, is that the effects are weak. Yes, people with plenty of money are happier than people who don’t have much money, but the difference is quite small. Apparently money can buy happiness, but not very much of it. There is only one objective circumstance that has been shown to make a big difference in happiness, and that involves social connections. People who are alone in the world are much less happy than people who have strong, rich social networks. (This strong link shows once again that inner processes, in this case happiness, are linked to interpersonal relationships, in this case forming and maintaining good connections to other people. The human emotional system is set up so that it is very hard for a person to be happy while alone in life.) For all other circumstances, even including health, injury, money, career, and so forth, the differences are small. If you think that reaching your goals will make you happy, you are likely to be disappointed, even though technically you are right. In general, that is, people who meet their goals are briefly happy, but then they go back to where they were before. A man who reaches his career goal may experience some temporary happiness, but he does not live happily ever after. Most things wear off pretty soon. © Anders Hald/Masterfile


On average, a couple’s happiness is reduced after they have children, even though most parents love their children and few wish they had never had them.

hedonic treadmill a theory proposing that people stay at about the same level of happiness regardless of what happens to them

The Hedonic Treadmill. The tendency for objective changes to wear off led some social psychologists to speak of the hedonic treadmill (Brickman & Campbell, 1971; Brickman, Coates, & Janoff-Bulman, 1978; Diener, Lucas, & Scollon, 2006; Kahneman, 1999; Kahnemnan, Knetsch, & Thaler, 1990; Kahneman, Wakker, & Sarin, 1997). Like a person on a treadmill, you may take big steps forward but end up in the same place. A big success at work or in romance will bring joy for a while, but then the person goes back to being as happy or unhappy as before. That doesn’t mean that everyone goes back to the same level. Happy people go back to being happy, and unhappy ones go back to their former level of unhappiness (Diener et al., 2006). In one of the most dramatic illustrations of the hedonic treadmill, researchers studied people who had won the state lottery (thereby gaining hundreds of thousands of dollars) and other people who had been severely paralyzed in an accident (Brickman et al., 1978). Such events are among the most extremely good or bad things that can happen to someone. At first, of course, the lottery winners were very happy, whereas the accident victims were miserable. A year afterward, however, the effects had largely worn off. Winning the lottery was wonderful, but the winners seemed to have lost their ability to appreciate everyday pleasures such as a friendly conversation or a sunset. Additionally, sudden wealth brought a number of problems: Annoying, needy relatives came out of the woodwork, tax problems brought new headaches, and the like. In general, a year after the big event the differences in happiness were not very noticeable. (Consistent with the pattern that bad is stronger than good, it appeared that people got over big good events faster than they got over big bad events. People did not recover emotionally from being paralyzed as fast or as thoroughly as they got over the joy of winning the state lottery.) Subjective Roots of Happiness. If objective circumstances do not cause happiness, then what does? Happiness appears to lie more in our outlook and personality than in our circumstances. In a sense, some people are “born happy” whereas others

Some Important Emotions


remain grumpy and miserable no matter what happens. One study looked at a long list of objective predictors of happiness and, as usual, found that they had significant but very weak relationships to happiness. (Statistical significance means only that the relationship is not zero.) The advantage of this study was that it had also assessed the same people 10 years previously. Much can change in 10 years, including most of one’s objective circumstances. Ten years from now you will probably have a different job, a different home, different friends, different hobbies, a different amount of money, possibly some different family members. And yet: The strongest predictor of each person’s happiness turned out to be how happy the person had been 10 years before. It is not perfect, of course. Some people do change for the better or worse over long periods of time, but they are the exception. In general, people who are happy now will be happy in the future, while those who are grumpy or depressed or irritable now will continue to be so. Major events bring joy or sorrow, but these feelings wear off, and people go back to their own baseline. If you want to be married to a happy person in 10 years, find someone who is happy today (and preferably someone who was happy before meeting you!). Statistically, that person is your best bet for someone who will be happy in the future. One reason happiness often remains the same across time is that happiness is rooted in one’s outlook and approach to life. The importance of one’s outlook is evident in the difference between subjective and objective predictors of happiness. In general, subjective predictors are much stronger. Subjective refers to how you feel about something, whereas objective refers to the something. Thus, how much money you make (objectively) has only a weak relationship to happiness, but how you feel about your income (subjectively) is a strong predictor of happiness. How healthy you are (objectively), measured by how often you got sick this year, has only a weak relationship to your happiness, but how satisfied you are with your health (subjectively) is stronger. Being married has only a weak impact on happiness, but being happily married is a strong factor. Increasing Happiness. Recently, the “positive psychology” movement has begun to

look for actions or exercises that can increase happiness. Some findings are promising. Several psychological patterns have been shown to increase happiness, such as forgiving others, being grateful for blessings, practicing religious beliefs, and being optimistic (Brown & Ryan, 2003; McCullough, Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Emmons, & Tsang, 2002; McCullough, Rachal, Sandage, Worthington, Brown, & High, 1998; Ryff, 1995; Thrash & Elliot, 2003; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2004). These seem to have in common the idea of focusing one’s attention on positive things. For example, one exercise you might try if you want to raise your happiness is to sit down once or twice a week and make a list of the good things that have happened to you. Research studies have confirmed that people who do this end up happier than control participants who do not (Lyubomirsky, 2001). Regardless of what causes happiness, happy people are healthy people. For example, consider the results from a fascinating study of Catholic nuns (Danner, Snowdon, & Friesen, 2001). On September 22, 1930, the Mother Superior of the North American sisters sent a letter requesting that each Catholic nun “write a short sketch of [her] life. This account should not contain more than two to three hundred words and should be written on a single sheet of paper . . . include place of birth, parentage, interesting and edifying events of childhood, schools attended, influences that led to the convent, religious life, and outstanding events.” More than 60 years later, these 180 sketches were scored for positive emotions. The researchers found that nuns who expressed high positive emotions lived about 10 years longer than the nuns who expressed low positive emotion! Positive emotions are apparently good for your health, though the results are correlational and so we cannot be sure whether the emotion is a sign or a cause of health. It may well be that positive emotions have direct effects on the body that improve health, such as boosting the immune system. It may also be that happiness is


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

linked to good social relations, as we have seen, and perhaps good social relations promote health whereas being alone in the world weakens bodily health. The link between health and belongingness could also go in either direction or both. Maybe people are drawn to associate with someone who is happy while avoiding sad or grumpy types (thus happiness affects belongingness). Or maybe having good social relations makes people happy whereas being alone reduces happiness (thus belongingness affects happiness). Maybe both are correct. There is even another possibility, which is that some underlying trait predisposes people to get along with others and to be happy. In sum, happiness is linked to a variety of good outcomes, including health and success in life, but it is not yet clear what causes what. Further research will untangle these possible explanations. For now, it seems plausible that all the possible causal relationships are correct to some extent. Some people often experience intense emotions, both positive and negative, whereas others rarely feel intense emotions of any sort. Tradeoffs describes the tradeoff of feeling versus not feeling intense emotions.

Anger Anger is an emotional response to a real or imagined threat or provocation. Anger can range in intensity from mild irritation to extreme rage. Anger is different from aggression. Anger is an internal emotion, whereas aggression is an external behavior. (Aggression will be covered in Chapter 9.) Many events make people angry. These events can be interpersonal such as a provocation or a blow to the ego, or they can be stressors such as frustrations, physical pain, and discomfort caused by heat, crowding, noise, and foul odors (Berkowitz, 1993). Emotions can be grouped on two important dimensions: (1) unpleasant versus pleasant and (2) high versus low arousal. Using these two dimensions, emotions can be sorted into four categories, defined by crossing pleasant versus unpleasant with high versus low arousal (see ● Figure 6.5). Anger falls in the unpleasant, high arousal cate● Figure 6.5 gory, because anger both feels bad and energizes the person. Angry people are thus Emotions can be sorted into four highly motivated to take action, because the unpleasantness makes them want to do categories, defined by crossing something to bring about a change, and the high arousal contributes to initiative. the pleasant versus unpleasant The tendency to take action does not mean that effective or desirable actions are dimension with the high versus chosen. In fact, angry people often make poor choices. Studies of risk taking show low arousal dimension (Russell, that angry people make some of the stupidest 1980). decisions, leaning in particular toward high-risk, high-payoff courses of action that often backfire High arousal and produce disastrous consequences (Leith & Baumeister, 1996). The self-destructive aspect of anger comes from this pattern of making risky, Abused Excited foolish choices. In fact, anger makes people Alarmed downplay risks and overlook dangers (Lerner, Astonished Gonzalez, Small, & Fischhoff, 2003; Lerner & Angry Afraid Delighted Keltner, 2001). Angry people actually become Tense Distressed more optimistic, such that angry and happy Frustrated Annoyed people resemble each other and are different Glad Unpleasant Pleasant from people who are sad or afraid (who tend Pleased Happy toward pessimism) (Lerner et al., 2003). The energizing aspect of anger contributes to Satisfied making people feel strong and powerful (e.g., Serene Content Miserable Lerner et al., 2003; Lerner & Keltner, 2001). Anger Calm Depressed At ease can thus be a powerful force to help people stand Sad Relaxed Gloomy up for what they believe is right. The American Tired Bored Revolution, the civil rights movement, the femiDroopy Sleepy nist movement, and other causes probably benefited from anger and the resultant willingness to Low arousal take action. The other side of the energizing anger an emotional response to a real

From Russell, J. A., “A circumplex model of affect,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 1161–1178. Copyright © 1980 by the American Psychological Association. Reprinted by permission.

or imagined threat or provocation

Some Important Emotions


Tradeoffs Affect Intensity, or the Joys of Feeling Nothing Nearly everyone wants to be happy, and the emotional formula for happiness seems simple: You want to have plenty of good feelings and as few bad ones as possible. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always cooperate. Over the last couple of decades, researchers have begun to recognize that some people have many intense experiences, both good and bad, while others have relatively few. One of the most systematic treatments of this difference is based on the Affect Intensity Measure (AIM; Larsen & Diener, 1987). Some sample items from the scale are: “When I’m happy, I feel like I’m bursting with joy” and “When I am nervous, I get shaky all over.” People who score low on the scale have relatively few emotional reactions, and these tend to be rather subdued. In contrast, people who score high have strong emotions to all sorts of events. Consistent with traditional stereotypes, one study (Sheldon, 1994) found that advanced art college students had higher scores on the AIM than did advanced science college students. That is, future artists generally live with plenty of extreme emotions, whereas future scientists generally have more subdued emotional lives. Which is better? Affect intensity appears to be a genuine tradeoff. People who score low on the AIM can go through life on a fairly even keel. They don’t become too bothered about problems and stresses, but then again they don’t feel swept away with passionate joy very often either. In contrast, life is an emotional rollercoaster for people with high affect intensity. Thus, you get both the good and the bad, or neither.

The quality of your life circumstances may dictate which is preferable. If your life is in a positive groove, well under control, so that most experiences are good, then you may well get more meaningful enjoyment if you have high affective intensity. In contrast, if your life is filled with unpredictable, uncontrollable events, some of which are very bad, you may well prefer to have low affect intensity. You don’t want to take the good with the bad if there is too much bad. This tradeoff can affect the most intense and personal of relationships. People who have been hurt in love may become reluctant to let themselves fall in love again. Historians have even suggested that in past centuries, people were reluctant to love their children, because the high rate of child mortality would lead to heartbreak (Aries, 1962; Stone, 1977). If a woman from a good family had a baby, she would often send it out to the country to be nursed, even though objectively its chances of survival were slightly lower there (because the country was poorer) than if the child stayed with her. Preventing the woman from nursing her own baby kept maternal feelings of love to a minimum, so the mother was less hurt if the baby died. Older children were often sent out to live in other people’s households starting when they were 6 or 7, so parents might not develop the lasting emotional bond to their children that comes from living together year after year. Once public health improved, however, and most children could be expected to survive into adulthood, parents could afford the risk of loving their children more, and they began to keep their children with them until they were nearly grown up.

aspect of anger, however, is that people will also stand up and fight for things that may be trivial or ill advised, and they may choose their battles poorly. Angry people are impulsive and fail to consider the potential consequences of their actions (Scarpa & Raine, 2000). Anger is widely recognized as a problem. It is one of the most heavily regulated emotions, in the sense that cultures have many different norms about anger. Some of these norms conflict with each other. For example, norms say that sometimes it is justifiable to be angry, other times anger is wholly inappropriate, and yet other times there is an obligation to be angry (Averill, 1982). In another sense, however, anger is one of the least regulated emotions. When people are surveyed about how they control their emotions, they typically report that they have fewer and less effective techniques for controlling anger than for controlling other emotions (Tice & Baumeister, 1993). Causes of Anger. What makes people angry? People perceive their anger as a reac-

tion to someone else’s wrongdoing. Greater anger accompanies (a) the more harm the other person does, (b) seeing the other person’s harmful behavior as random or arbitrary, or (c) seeing the other person’s harmful behavior as deliberately cruel. Many people hide their anger, especially at relationship partners. As a result, the partners don’t know that what they do makes the other angry, and so they are apt to do it again (Averill, 1982; Baumeister, Stillwell, & Wotman, 1990).


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

Anger seems maladaptive today—useless, counterproductive, harmful, divisive, and problematic. When people become angry, they do things they will regret later. They are impulsive, aggressive, and worse. Why would anger exist if it is harmful and maladaptive? It is reasonable to assume it was adaptive, or else natural selection would likely have favored people who did not feel anger, and anger would gradually have disappeared from the human repertoire of emotions. In other words, despite all its faults and drawbacks, anger must have some positive value that helps the organism survive. Or at least it must have had some positive value in the evolutionary past. Whether anger is suited to today’s cultures and social circumstances is quite another question, however. One line of explanation is that anger is adaptive because it motivates the person to act aggressively and assertively. The broader context is that emotions exist in order to motivate actions, and each emotion points toward a certain kind of act. Anger helps get people ready to defend themselves, assert their rights, pursue goals that might be blocked, and perform other beneficial acts. A second line of explanation begins by objecting to the first: Why not go directly to the aggression? Why become angry first? Anger tips off your foes that you might attack them, allowing them to prepare themselves or even attack you preemptively. The second explanation is that anger helps reduce aggression. This may seem paradoxical, because studies show that people are more aggressive when they are angry than when they are not (Berkowitz, 1993). But that evidence could be misleading, because both anger and aggression occur in situations in which there is conflict, frustration, or provocation. If human beings had evolved to skip feeling anger and go directly to aggression, the absence of anger might not change the amount of aggression. Hence, in this second view, anger helps warn friends and family that something is wrong and aggression may be coming. This gives people time to resolve the conflict before it reaches the point of violence. Anger may therefore actually reduce aggression, compared to what the world would be like if people went directly into aggressive action as soon as they experienced conflict or frustration. For example, some powerful people manage to get their way with just a brief frown of displeasure or a slight raising of the voice: A hint of anger is enough to make other people scurry to do their bidding, and the powerful person hardly ever has to express a full-blown angry outburst, let alone engage in aggressive action. Thus, anger may be social in an important sense, and in fact it may help enable people to live together. If anger is a warning sign of impending aggression, anger may help defuse conflict and prevent aggression. Yet as a sign of conflict and problem, anger may be antisocial. Moreover, the action-motivating function of anger may conflict with the social conflict-defusing aspect. Angry people may say or do things that make the problem worse. If one person wants to go out and the other wants to stay in, conflict is already there—but angry, insulting remarks will aggravate it and make it harder to reach a compromise. A final perspective on the causes of anger is the potential mismatch between people’s natural reactions and the complexity of modern social life. Many emotional reactions developed during a time of simpler life circumstances. Anger might help you have the arousal to fight off a predatory animal, but it may be useless and even counterproductive to have the same feelings toward your computer when a file is accidentally deleted. Hiding Versus Showing Anger. Because it is unpleasant, many people want to get

rid of their anger when they experience it. There are three possible ways of dealing with anger. One standard approach that has been endorsed by many societies is to never show anger. (Nature supplies the impulse to be angry, but culture tells people to try to stop it.) It can end up prompting people to stuff their anger deep inside and repress it. There is some evidence that this is a costly strategy. Long-term concealed anger can be quite destructive to the person, increasing the risk of such illnesses as heart disease (e.g., Ellis, 1977). On the other hand, as we have seen, inner states fol-

Some Important Emotions

catharsis theory the proposition that expressing negative emotions produces a healthy release of those emotions and is therefore good for the psyche


low outward expressions (as in the facial feedback hypothesis, covered earlier), so if people generally act as if to show they are not angry, some anger may be diminished. A second approach is to vent one’s anger. This view treats anger as a kind of inner pressure or corrosive substance that builds up over time and does harm unless it is released. The catharsis theory falls in this category, because it holds that expressing anger (including verbal expression or even aggressive, violent action) produces a healthy release of emotion and is therefore good for the psyche. Catharsis theory, which can be traced back through Sigmund Freud to Aristotle, is elegant and appealing. Unfortunately, the facts and findings do not show that venting one’s anger has positive value. On the contrary, it tends to make people more aggressive afterward and to exacerbate interpersonal conflicts (Geen & Quanty, 1977). Venting anger is also linked to higher risk of heart disease (Chesney, 1985; Diamond, 1982; Harburg et al., 1979; Lane & Hobfoll, 1992; Martin, Wan, David, Wegner, Olson, & Watson, 1999; Spielberger, Reheiser, & Sydeman, 1995; also see the reviews by Lewis & Bucher, 1992; Miller, Smith, Turner, Guijarro, & Hallet, 1996; Rosenman & Chesney, 1982). Even among people who believe in the value of venting and catharsis, and even when people enjoy their venting and feel some satisfaction from it, they are more likely to be aggressive after venting (Bushman, Baumeister, & Stack, 1999). One variation of venting is intense physical exercise, such as running. When angry, some people go running or try some other form of physical exercise. Although exercise is good for your heart, it is not good for reducing anger (Bushman, 2002). The reason exercise doesn’t work is that it increases rather than decreases arousal levels (recall the earlier section on arousal in emotion). Also, if someone provokes you after exercising, excitation transfer might occur (Zillmann, 1979). That is, the arousal from the exercise might transfer into the response to the provocation, producing an exaggerated and possibly more violent response. In a nutshell, venting anger may be like using gasoline to put out a fire: It just feeds the flame. Venting keeps arousal levels high and keeps aggressive thoughts and angry feelings alive. Venting is just practicing how to behave more aggressively, by hitting, kicking, screaming, or shouting. The third approach is to try to get rid of one’s anger. This solution is important because the problems of both the other approaches (i.e., stuffing and venting) arise because the person stays angry. The important thing is to stop feeling angry. All emotions, including anger, consist of bodily states (such as arousal) and mental meanings. To get rid of anger you can work on either of those. Anger can be reduced by getting rid of the arousal state, such as by relaxing. Anger can also be addressed by mental tactics, such as by reframing the problem or conflict, or by distracting oneself and turning one’s attention to other, more pleasant topics. Certain behaviors can also help get rid of anger. For example, doing something such as making love or performing a good deed can help, because those acts are incompatible with anger and the angry state becomes impossible to sustain (e.g., Baron, 1976).

Guilt and Shame “[Guilt is] this mechanism we use to control people. It’s an illusion. It’s a kind of social control mechanism and it’s very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our bodies. And there are much better ways to control our behavior than that rather extraordinary use of guilt.” (Blair, 2004)

What do you think of that view of guilt? Many people agree with it. Guilt does have a bad reputation in our culture. If you visit the “pop psychology” section in a public bookstore, you are likely to find several books telling you how to get rid of guilt. The underlying idea is that guilt is a useless (or even harmful) form of self-inflicted suffering, as the previous quotation says. Most people seek to avoid guilt. Then again, perhaps guilt deserves more credit than it gets. The previous quotation was actually from Ted Bundy, a notorious mass murderer who killed numerous


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

Ted Bundy in court. Bundy was a serial killer who murdered dozens of women. He was electrocuted in a Florida prison on January 24, 1989.

guilt an unpleasant moral emotion associated with a specific instance in which one has acted badly or wrongly shame a moral emotion that, like guilt, involves feeling bad but, unlike guilt, spreads to the whole person

Guilt Versus Shame. What is guilt? Guilt is generally an emotional feeling that is bad, and it is usually associated with some implicit reproach that one has acted badly or wrongly. By and large, everyone occasionally does something wrong; the difference between people lies in whether they feel bad about it or not. Guilt is especially associated with acts that could damage a relationship about which one cares. Guilt must be distinguished from shame (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). The difference lies in how widely the bad feeling is generalized. Guilt focuses narrowly on the action, whereas shame spreads to the whole person. Guilt says, “I did a bad thing.” Shame says, “I am a bad person.” Research based on that distinction has repeatedly shown that shame is usually destructive whereas guilt is usually constructive. This may be worth keeping in mind when you deal with your assistants and workers, or your children, or your students (or even your romantic partners). How do you criticize them when they do something wrong? Calling their attention to what they did wrong may seem necessary, but phrasing your criticism in terms of being a bad person (e.g., “you rotten creep”) is not nearly as constructive as allowing them to be a good person who did a bad thing. Thus, one should avoid making internal negative stable attributions about others (see Chapter 5). There is, after all, no remedy for being a bad person, so shame makes people want to withdraw and hide, or to lash out in anger. In contrast, guilt signifies a good person who did a bad thing, and there are plenty of ways that a good person can remedy an isolated bad act: apologize, make amends, reaffirm your commitment to the relationship, promise not to repeat the misdeed, and so forth. Effects of Guilt. Guilt motivates people to do good acts, such as apologizing. Apologies can help repair damage to relationships because they (a) convey the implicit agreement that the act was wrong, (b) suggest that the person will try not to do it again, and (c) counteract any implication that the bad action meant that the person does not care about the relationship. For example, if your partner cooks you a lovely dinner but you arrive an hour late and the food is spoiled, your partner may not care very much about the food itself, but the implication that you do not care about the relationship can be very upsetting. A convincing apology cannot revive the spoiled food, but it may prevent your partner from feeling that you do not care about the relationship (Baumeister, Stillwell, & Heatherton, 1994; Ohbuchi, Kameda, & Agarie, 1989; Tangney & Dearing, 2002; Tangney & Fischer, 1995). Guilt also motivates people to make amends. When people feel guilty about something they have done, they try harder to perform positive or good actions. They are more likely to learn a lesson and try to behave better in the future. This too can help salvage a relationship from the damage done by some misbehavior. For example, in one study (McMillen & Austin, 1971), half the participants were induced to tell a lie. A previous participant (actually a confederate) told them all about the study and what the correct answers to a test were before the experimenter arrived. Soon thereafter, the experimenter came and asked participants if they had heard anything at all about the study. All participants said no. Thus, half of the participants lied (because in fact they had heard about the study). After the study was over, the experimenter Reprinted by permission of Atlantic Feature Syndicate.

© Bettmann/Corbis

young women. Perhaps if he had felt a little more guilt himself, he might have refrained from his criminal acts and some of those women would be alive today. Research by social psychologists has gradually painted a picture of guilt that differs starkly from the negative view held by our culture (and by Ted Bundy). Guilt is actually quite good for society and for close relationships. You would not want to have a boss, a lover, a roommate, or a business partner who had no sense of guilt. Such people exist (they are called psychopaths), but they are often a disaster to those around them (Hare, 1998). They exploit and harm others, help themselves at the expense of others, and feel no remorse about those they hurt.

Some Important Emotions


said that participants were free to go, but added that if they had extra time they could help him fill in bubble sheets for another study (an incredibly boring task). Participants who had not been induced to lie volunteered to help fill in bubble sheets for 2 minutes on average, whereas participants who had been induced to lie volunteered to help fill in bubble sheets for 63 minutes. The lying participants were apparently attempting to wipe away their guilt for lying to the experimenter by being more helpful. Guilt made them more willing to do something nice. Many other social psychology studies have found that people behave in more socially desirable ways when they feel guilty (Cialdini, Darby, & Vincent, 1973; Harris, Benson, & Hall, 1975; Katzev et al., 1978). These research findings about the positive effects of guilt suggest that guilt is good for relationships, even though feeling guilty will be unpleasant. Sometimes, in order to make a relationship more successful, people must sacrifice their own selfish interests and do what is best for the other person. (Indeed, one theme of this book has been the need to rely on conscience and self-regulation to overcome selfish impulses in order for civilized society and strong human relationships to survive.) Guilt is one force that pushes people toward making those relationship-enhancing sacrifices. Guilt and Relationships. Some forms of guilt do not revolve around doing anything survivor guilt an unpleasant emotion associated with surviving a tragic event involving much loss of life

wrong. Sometimes people feel guilty simply because others have suffered more than they have. The term survivor guilt emerged after World War II based on observations of victims who had not suffered as much as others. Some people who survived the mass murder campaigns in concentration camps felt guilty for having survived when so many others died. Likewise, people who survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki felt guilty for having lived when so many others died. These people had not done anything wrong, but the phenomenon of survivor guilt shows that people are deeply sensitive to a sense of fairness and have some unease when life is “unfair” in their favor. (It is easy to be upset about unfairness when you are the one who got less than others; even some animals react to such unfairness, but they do not seem to mind when they get more than their share.) A more modern version of survivor guilt has been observed during economic recessions, when large firms must lay off many workers. Those who remain often have some feelings of guilt for keeping their jobs when other deserving individuals have lost theirs (Brockner, Greenberg, Brockner, Bortz, Davy, & Carter, 1986). All of this depicts guilt as a very interpersonal emotion, and it is. The stereotype of guilt is as a solitary emotion, but even if someone feels guilty while alone, most likely the guilt is about something interpersonal. People mainly feel guilty about things they have done to others—hurting them, ignoring them, letting them down, or failing to meet their expectations. Moreover, they mainly feel guilty toward people they care about. Guilt is more linked to close relationships than other emotions. For example, people may often be afraid of total strangers, or annoyed by casual acquaintances, or frustrated by someone in a store or restaurant, but guilt is mainly felt toward family, good friends, and other loved ones (Baumeister, Reis, & Delespaul, 1995). Many people count on guilt to push their loved ones to behave properly. Others try to help things along a bit. Guilt is one emotion that people actively try to make others feel. Some people become quite skilled at knowing what to say to make someone else feel guilty. As always, though, the guilt depends on the relationship, and a stranger may have a hard time making you feel guilty. The essence of most guilt-inducing strategies is “See how you are hurting me.” If you do not care about that person, you may not mind hurting him or her. In contrast, if the person is someone you love and care about, you will usually change your behavior to avoid hurting the person. Guilt is thus an emotion well suited to cultural animals such as human beings. It depends on one’s connections to others, and it makes people maintain better relationships with others. It also benefits a large system of interrelationships, which is what a culture is. And it encourages people to live up to cultural standards and rules (Baumeister et al., 1994).


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

Quiz Yourself 1.


Some Important Emotions

One measure of happiness, affect balance, is equal to _____. (a) the frequency of (b) the frequency of positive positive emotions emotions divided by the frequency of negative emotions (c) the frequency of (d) the frequency of positive positive emotions emotions plus the minus the frequency frequency of negative of negative emotions emotions Mimi just won the lottery in the state where she lives. What is her emotional response likely to be over time? (a) Mimi will be very happy (b) Mimi will be very happy at first, and will remain at first, but she will very happy. later return to her level of happiness before she won the lottery. (c) Mimi will be very happy (d) Mimi’s initial and subat first, but she will later sequent level of happibecome very depressed ness will not change after the good feeling from what it was before wears off. before she won the lottery.


Bill thinks that if he’s irritated with his children, he’ll feel better and be less inclined to hit them if he just yells and screams. Bill believes in the notion of _____. (a) catharsis (b) displacement (c) excitation transfer (d) negative reinforcement


Which statement best describes the research about guilt and shame? (a) Guilt and shame are both (b) Guilt and shame are good for the individual both bad for the individand society. ual and society. (c) Guilt is bad and shame (d) Guilt is good and is good for the individual shame is bad for the and society. individual and society.

Answers: 1=c, 2=b, 3=a, 4=d

Why Do We Have Emotions? If emotions are confusing, destructive reactions that make people do stupid things, then probably natural selection would have phased them out long ago, because people who had fewer and weaker emotions would fare better than people with plenty of strong emotions. People who lack emotions seem to have great difficulties in life (Damasio, 1994). It is true that sometimes emotions are confusing and cause people to do stupid, irrational, even self-destructive things. But all that tells us is that the benefits of emotion must be that much greater, because the benefits have to offset those costs. One thing seems clear: Emotions comprise an important and powerful feedback system. Emotions tell us whether something is good or bad. You don’t have much emotion over things you don’t care about! Caring (motivation) is therefore one ingredient necessary for making emotion. As we go through life and things happen to us, emotions follow along afterward and help stamp in the strong sense that each event was good or bad. This is true for both automatic affect and conscious emotion. Whatever else emotions may do, they help formulate our reactions to whatever has just happened.

Emotions Promote Belongingness Emotions help people get along better. This may seem surprising at first, because we are quick to notice when someone else’s emotions make that person hard to get along with. Mostly, however, people’s emotions promote their ties to others. The best way to appreciate this is to look at the emotions people have when they either form or break a social bond with someone else. Forming social bonds is linked to positive emotions (Anderson, Russell, & Schumm, 1983; Baumeister & Leary,

Why Do We Have Emotions?


1995; Belsky, 1985; Belsky, Lang, & Rovine, 1985; Belsky, Spanier, & Rovine, 1983; Bernard, 1982; Campbell, 1981; Campbell, Converse, & Rodgers, 1976; Glenn & McLanahan, 1982; Glenn & Weaver, 1978; Ruble, Fleming, Hackel, & Stangor, 1988; Spanier & Lewis, 1980; Twenge et al., 2003). People are happy at weddings (even if they cry!). They are usually delighted when they join a fraternity or sorority. They are excited or at least relieved when they get a job. Having children is revealing: People are usually all full of joyful smiles when they have children, even though in the long run being a parent leads to lower happiness in life, probably because of the stresses and demands of parenting. Conversely, a host of bad emotions is linked to events that end, damage, or threaten relationships. Having an enemy leads to fear or hate. Divorce and other forms of social rejection foster sadness, depression, and anger. Being treated badly or rejected unfairly causes anger. Doing something that hurts a loved one causes guilt. Jealousy arises at the threat that your partner might leave you for someone else. The prospect of being abandoned and alone causes anxiety. Losing a loved one causes grief. Happy feelings often reflect healthy relationships (Gable & Reis, 2001), whereas hurt feelings often reflect damaged relationships (Leary & Springer, 2000). If you want to feel good and avoid emotional distress, the path is clear: Form and maintain good social relationships with other people! The fact that emotions promote belongingness is yet another important instance of our general theme that what happens inside people serves what happens between people. Emotions (inner processes) help promote good interpersonal relations. People want to feel good and avoid bad emotions, and this desire will impel them to try to form and maintain good relationships.

Emotions Cause Behavior—Sort Of Traditionally it has been assumed that emotions guide behavior. This view is consistent with what we know about physiological arousal. Arousal gets the body ready for action (Frijda, 1986; Frijda, Kuipers, & ter Schure, 1989). According to Frijda (1986), emotion does not exist without a readiness for action. Other theorists have proposed that implicit muscle movements are part of emotion (Berkowitz, 1993). That is, an emotion naturally and normally starts your body moving. Then again, maybe emotions do not guide behavior. People have plenty of emotions without doing anything. Additionally, there is no single action associated with most emotions. Maybe fear prompts you to run away, but it is slow; if you depended on having full-blown fear, you would not escape fast enough. Maybe anger inspires you to fight, but most angry people don’t fight. What is the behavior that is supposed to follow from guilt? From love? From joy? The objection that emotion is too slow to guide behavior applies mainly to conscious emotion, of course. Automatic affect—the feeling of liking or disliking something—arises in a fraction of a second and therefore can be very helpful. When walking through a crowded room, you may meet someone unexpectedly, and you might have to decide whether to smile at that person or go the other way. The fast automatic reaction that tells you whether you like or dislike that person can be a big help. If you had to wait around for arousal to build and a full-fledged conscious emotion to occur, it would be too late to help you make that decision. Food for Thought talks about whether moods guide eating behavior. When emotion causes behavior, it is often because the person wants to change or escape the emotional state. For example, researchers have long known that sad, depressed moods make people more helpful (e.g., Cialdini & Kendrick, 1976; Hornstein, 1982; Lerner, 1982; Reykowski, 1982). There are multiple reasons this could be true, such as that sadness makes people have more empathy for another person’s suffering and need, or that sadness makes people less concerned about their own welfare. Then again, perhaps sadness makes people more concerned about themselves, in that they want to feel better. One team of researchers hit on an ingenious way to test this theory (Manucia, Baumann, & Cialdini, 1984). They put people in either a


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

Food for Thought Mood and Food People who feel bad often eat badly. For example, people who are depressed or lonely will eat so-called comfort foods that are typically rich in sugar, fat, and carbohydrates. Such foods are called “comfort foods” because they are often associated with childhood and home cooking (and thus the comfort of having a parent to take care of you). They also provide a sense of well-being—at least until you start feeling guilty for eating them! Many studies have linked food and mood. For example, in one study (Algras & Telch, 1998), participants were 60 obese women with binge-eating disorders. Binge eaters consume a large amount of food at one time. Sometimes they also feel out of control when eating. By the flip of a coin, half these women were assigned to fast for 14 hours, so they would be pretty hungry, whereas the rest did not fast. All the women were then induced to have either a negative or a neutral mood, and then they were served a buffet meal (so they could eat as much as they wanted). How much the women ate depended on their mood but not on whether they had fasted. In other words, being in a bad mood had a bigger effect on how much these women ate than how food deprived they were! The bad moods led to more eating, and eating seemed to help cheer the women up. Other studies have reported similar results: Being in a bad mood leads to binge eating and a feeling of being out of

control when eating (Agras & Telch, 1998; Telch & Agras, 1996). Johnson et al. (1995) compared binge-eatingdisordered adults, nonclinical binge eaters, and adults who did not binge eat. All three groups overate in response to negative emotions. The effect of mood on food intake is not limited to people with eating disorders—it applies to all adults. This doesn’t mean that bad moods automatically or directly cause people to eat. Rather, eating seems to be a strategy for making yourself feel better. In one study, half the participants were told that eating would not change their mood. Then all were put into a sad, depressed mood by having them imagine they were the driver in a car accident that killed a child. Those who had been told that eating wouldn’t make them feel good did not eat any more than those in a neutral-mood control condition. Only those who thought eating might make them feel better indulged in heavy eating in response to the bad mood (Tice, Bratslavsky, & Baumeister, 2001). Thus, as noted in the text, it is wrong to say simply that the emotion “causes” behavior. Emotional distress drives people to want to feel better, and they choose actions that they think will cheer them up. These findings are consistent with mood maintenance theory, which argues that people who are in a good mood try to maintain that good mood as long as they can (e.g., Handley, Lassiter, Nickell, & Herchenroeder, 2004).

happy, sad, or neutral mood. They also gave everyone a pill. Some were told the pill had no side effects, but others were told that the pill had the side effect that it would freeze or fix their emotional state for about an hour, which meant that whatever mood or emotion they currently had would continue for another hour. The point of this mood-freezing manipulation was that it made people think it was useless to try to feel better. The group of sad participants whose pills supposedly had no side effects were more helpful than others, consistent with previous findings that sadness increases helping. But there was no rise in helpfulness among the mood-freeze participants. The researchers concluded that sad moods only lead to greater helping if people believe that helping will make them feel better. That emotion (sadness) does not directly cause behavior; rather, it makes people look for ways to escape the bad feeling. There is another reason to suspect that the purpose of emotion is not directly causing behavior. When emotion does cause behavior, as in the so-called heat of passion, it often produces behaviors that are not wise or beneficial to the individual. For example, angry people often say and do things that they later regret, such as calling their boss an idiot (Van Dijk & Zeelenberg, 2002). Evolution favors traits that bring benefits and advantages. If emotions mainly caused foolish actions, then natural selection would have gradually phased emotion out of the human psyche. The irrationality of emotional actions is therefore a reason to suspect that the natural purpose of emotion lies elsewhere. One seeming exception to the view that emotions do not cause behavior is communication. It seems that emotions are meant to be communicated and, in this

Why Do We Have Emotions?


sense, emotions do cause behavior. It may be natural to show one’s feelings and artificial to hide them. Young children, for example, typically express their emotions freely and without reserve. As they grow up, they slowly learn to hide them sometimes, which is another sign that the influence of socialization is to restrain and conceal feelings rather than to instill them. Once again, nature says go and culture says stop!

Emotions Guide Thinking and Learning

affect-as-information hypothesis the idea that people judge something as good or bad by asking themselves “How do I feel about it?”

As the previous section showed, emotion may or may not guide behavior directly. The link between emotion and behavior is far from clear, but emotion does influence thinking and learning. As we said earlier, emotions make up a feedback system that helps people process information about the world and their own actions in it. Emotions change the way people think and sometimes help them learn better. A long-standing stereotype held that emotions undermine rational thinking and make people do foolish, crazy things. However, psychological studies have shown that people who lack emotions (often because of brain injuries or other problems) are not really better off. They have great difficulty adjusting to life and making decisions. Researcher Antonio Damasio (1994) described asking one such patient which of two dates would be better for his next appointment. The man spent most of an hour thinking of all the potential reasons to choose one or the other date, thus showing that he could analyze and think very logically, but he could not manage to choose between them. Finally Damasio just picked one date and the man immediately said “Fine!” Research with such patients has also shown that emotions help people learn from their mistakes. Without emotions, people don’t learn. In one study (Bechara, Damasio, Tranel, & Damasio, 1997), participants had to draw from various decks of cards. For some decks, the cards generally signaled that the participant would win a small amount of money. In other decks, the amounts of money were larger, but one could lose as well as win. Normal people with normal emotional responses would play the game by sampling each deck, and when they drew a card that cost them a large sum they would then avoid that deck for a while. The negative emotional reaction helped them learn to regard those decks as bad. The patients without emotion failed to learn. Even after they lost a big sum they would go right back to the same deck, often losing much more money in the process. Thus, emotions help people learn. Bad emotions may help people think about their mistakes and learn how to avoid repeating them. Sometimes this process is aided by counterfactual thinking, which Chapter 5 explained as a process of thinking about what might have been. Emotions make people engage in more counterfactual thinking (Mahwah et al., 1997; Roese & Olson, 1995), such as “I wish I hadn’t said that,” or “If I hadn’t wasted time arguing on the phone, I would have gotten there on time,” or “I should have asked that attractive person for his/her phone number.” Emotion can constitute valuable information that people learn about the world. According to the affect-as-information hypothesis (Clore, Gasper, & Garvin, 2001), people judge something as good or bad by asking themselves, “How do I feel about it?” If they feel good, they conclude that the thing is good. If they feel bad, then whatever they are dealing with must be bad. Research has shown that mood effects are eliminated when people misattribute their mood to an irrelevant source, such as the weather. In one study (Schwarz & Clore, 1983), researchers sampled phone numbers from the student directory, assigned them to sunny versus rainy conditions by the flip of a coin, and waited for suitable days. The sunny days were the first two sunny spring days after a long period of gray overcast. For the first time in months, students went outside to play Frisbee. The rainy days were several days into a period of lowhanging clouds and rain. The interviewer pretended to call from out of town and asked a few questions about life satisfaction. The crucial manipulation was whether the interviewer first asked as an aside, “By the way, how’s the weather down there?” This question was asked to draw students’ attention to a plausible source of their present mood. Because the researchers weren’t sure that this would work, they also included a condition in which the interviewer told students that the study was about


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

“how the weather affects people’s mood.” The results showed that students were more satisfied with their lives on sunny days than on rainy days, but only when their attention was not drawn to the weather. Asking, “How’s the weather down there?” eliminated the effect of weather on people’s life satisfaction. When people are in an emotional state, they seem to see the world in a more emotional way, and this changes the way they process information. People put things in categories based more on their emotional tone than on their meaning. For example, does the word joke go more with speech or with sunbeam? People who are not having an emotion at the moment tend to group joke with speech because both involve talking (a logical grouping). In contrast, people who are happy or sad tend to group joke with sunbeam because both words have positive emotional meanings. Emotion thus attunes you to emotional connections out in the world (Niedenthal, Halberstadt, & Innes-Ker, 1999).

(Anticipated) Emotion Guides Decisions and Choices

affective forecasting the ability to predict one’s emotional reactions to future events

We said earlier that emotions are a feedback system, in the sense that they give us dramatic and powerful evaluations of whatever has just happened. In a sense, therefore, emotions focus on the recent past. Is that any help toward the future? One way they could help would be with learning, as noted above. Another, however, is that people can learn to anticipate how they will feel if something happens. As a result, they can begin to guide their behavior based on how they expect to feel. If emotion rewards and punishes behavior, then perhaps people decide how to act based on how they expect to feel afterward. They avoid acts that they expect will make them feel sad, angry, guilty, or embarrassed, and they favor acts that they think will make them feel happy, satisfied, or relieved. Thus, anticipated emotion is important. Guilt is a good example: Guilt can really organize someone’s life even if one hardly ever feels guilty. If guilt does its job, the person will anticipate and avoid acts that might lead to guilt. The person will end up behaving in a morally and socially desirable manner, and hence will almost never actually have to feel guilty. Humans are the only animals that can travel mentally through time, preview a variety of different futures, and choose the one they think will bring them the greatest pleasure (or the least pain). Affective forecasting is the ability to predict one’s emotional reactions to future events (Gilbert, Pinel, Wilson, Blumberg, & Wheatley, 1998). How do you think you would feel, and how long would this emotional state last, if (a) you won first prize in some athletic tournament, (b) you found out your romantic partner was having an affair with someone else, (c) you got a great job offer with a high starting salary, or (d) you were wrongly accused of cheating and had to withdraw from the university? Most people are fairly accurate at predicting which emotions they would feel, but they substantially overestimate how long they would feel that way. People also overestimate the intensity of their emotional reactions (Buehler & McFarland, 2001). The odds are that if any of these things did happen to you, you would get over it and return to your normal emotional state faster than you think. People are rarely happy or unhappy for as long as they expect to be. This error may occur because people focus too much attention on the event in question and not enough attention on other future events (Wilson, Wheatley, Meyers, Gilbert, & Axsom, 2000). Is it a problem that our predictive powers are seriously flawed? It may be a blessing rather than a curse, according to social psychologist Dan Gilbert (2002): Imagine a world in which some people realize that external events have much less impact than others believe they do. Those who make that realization might not be particularly motivated to change the external events. But one of the reasons we protect our children, for example, is that we believe we would be devastated if they were harmed or killed. So these predictions may be very effective in motivating us to do the things we as a society need to do, even though they might be inaccurate on an individual level. Any-

Why Do We Have Emotions?


one who wanted to cure affective forecasters of their inferential ills would be wise to measure both the costs and benefits of forecasting errors.

Anticipated emotion can be a powerful guide to behavior, though psychologists have only begun to study the ways in which this happens. Thus far, one of the most studied effects of anticipated emotion is anticipated regret. Mellers, Schwartz, and Ritov (1999) have argued that people make decisions more on the basis of how they expect to feel than on the basis of a fully logical, rational analysis of what will yield the most money. For example, in Chapter 5 we saw that decision making shows a “status quo bias,” which means that people tend to stick with what they have and be overly reluctant to make changes, even if changing would logically put them in a better position. Mellers et al. would explain the status quo bias on the basis of anticipated regret: If you made the wrong decision, you would probably regret it more if you had made a change than if you had stuck with what you have. Imagine this in the context of a romantic relationship: You have a reasonably good relationship, but someone else comes along who seems potentially an even better partner for you, though it is hard to be certain. According to the anticipated emotion theory, your decision will be based on considering how much you will regret either decision if it is wrong. If you stay with your pretty good partner even though the other partner would have been better, you may feel some regret. But you would feel even more regret if you dumped your pretty good partner and went off with the other one, and that turned out to have been a mistake. Anticipating the greater possible regret of making the second kind of mistake (dumping your current partner in favor of the new one) will bias the decision-making process toward staying with the status quo.

Emotions Help and Hurt Decision Making

risk-as-feelings hypothesis the idea that people rely on emotional processes to evaluate risk, with the result that their judgments may be biased by emotional factors

We have already seen that without emotions, people have trouble making up their minds. They can think through the good and bad features of some decision, but they have trouble settling on which one is best. Only recently has decision research started to take seriously the role of emotions in the choices and decisions people make (Connolly, 2002). Evolution seems to have prepared humans and other primates to experience fear and anxiety in response to certain objects (e.g., snakes, spiders). Anxiety has been called “the shadow of intelligence” because it motivates people to plan ahead and avoid taking unnecessary risks (Barlow, 1988). According to the risk-as-feelings hypothesis (Loewenstein, Weber, Hsee, & Welch, 2001), people react to risky situations based on how severe the worst outcome is and how likely it is to occur. They do this at a gut level. If their gut tells them the situation is too risky, they avoid it. (In terms of the duplex mind, gut reactions usually refer to the automatic system—in this case, automatic affective reactions.) Strong conscious emotions can also influence people to engage in risky behavior and ignore future consequences. Sexual arousal often interferes with decision-making ability. For example, in one study (Blanton & Gerrard, 1997), men who saw sexually appealing photographs thought they were less likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease from a high-risk partner than did men who saw nonsexual photographs. Thus, their feeling of sexual arousal prevented them from appraising the danger accurately. Negative emotional responses to sex such as anxiety, guilt, and fear interfere with sexual behavior and also interfere with learning and retaining sexually relevant material, such as contraceptive information (Gerrard, Gibbons, & McCoy, 1993). Other negative emotions, such as depression, are associated with maladaptive decision making (Okumabua & Duryea, 2003). In summary, emotions call attention to good and bad outcomes but seem to make people disregard probabilities and odds. Anticipated emotions generally seem to help and inform decision making, but current emotional states can bias the process and lead to risky or foolish choices.


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

Positive Emotions Counteract Negative Emotions

broaden-and-build theory the proposition that positive emotions expand an individual’s attention and mind-set

Positive emotions are studied far less than negative emotions (Fredrickson, 2003). Compared to negative emotions, there are fewer positive emotions, and they are relatively undifferentiated. For example, it is difficult to distinguish joy, amusement, and serenity. In contrast, it is easier to distinguish anger, fear, and disgust. What adaptive function do positive emotions serve? How did they help our ancestors survive? One possible answer is that positive emotions appear to solve problems of personal growth and development. Barbara Fredrickson has developed a broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions (e.g., Fredrickson, 1998, 2001, 2003). Positive emotions prepare an individual for later hard times. Positive emotions broaden and expand an individual’s attention and mind-set. For example, joy broadens by creating the urge to play, push the limits, and become creative (Ellsworth & Smith, 1988; Frijda, 1986). These broadened mind-sets, in turn, build an individual’s physical, intellectual, and social resources (see ● Figure 6.6). Some research has shown that positive events are strongly related to positive emotions but not negative emotions, whereas negative events are strongly related to negative emotions but not positive emotions (Gable, Reis, & Elliot, 2000). However, in some studies, bad events affect both good and bad emotions, whereas good events mainly affect good emotions (David, Green, Martin, & Suls, 1997; Major, Zubek, Cooper, Cozzarelli, & Richards, 1997). (This is another sign that bad is stronger than good, because the effects of bad events are broader.) In any case, this line of thought suggests that the value of positive emotions is mainly to be found in connection with positive events. Against that view, however, Fredrickson’s work suggests that much of the value of positive emotions may lie in their power to overcome or prevent bad emotions.

Other Benefits of Positive Emotions Being in a good mood helps flexibility, creativity, and problem-solving ability. For example, in one study (Estrada, Isen, & Young, 1997), researchers put physicians in a good mood by giving them some candy. Physicians in the control group received no ● Figure 6.6 candy. Both groups of physicians were given a case of a patient with liver disease, and researchers timed how long it took physicians to diagnose the case. Physicians who Positive emotions broaden and expand an individual’s attention received the candy were 19% faster and showed fewer distortions and more flexible and mind-set. These broadened thinking in comparison to physicians who received no candy. The results could not mind-sets, in turn, build an be due to a “sugar high” because the physicians were told to eat the candy after the individual’s physical, intellectual, study was over, and all of them waited. and social resources Being in a bad mood does not help flexibility and creativity. (Fredrickson, 2003). For example, participants who thought about the French documentary Night and Fog, which is about the World War II concentration camps, did not perform better than individuals in a Intellectual resources Physical resources neutral mood (Isen, 2000). Thus, the effects are probably not • Develop problem-solving • Develop coordination due to mere arousal, because both positive and negative moods skills • Develop strength and can increase arousal. • Learn new information cardiovascular health People in a positive mood also perform better, are more persistent, try harder, and are more motivated than people in a neutral mood (Erez & Isen, 2002). People are more motivated to perform tasks they enjoy doing, and being in a good mood makes Social resources Psychological resources tasks more enjoyable. • Solidify bonds • Develop resilence and Being in a good mood can also serve a protective function. optimism • Make new bonds People in a good mood tend to avoid risks, such as in gambling • Develop sense of identity (e.g., Isen & Patrick, 1983). People in a good mood want to and goal orientation remain in a good mood, and they would feel bad if they gambled away their earnings.

Individual Differences in Emotion

Quiz Yourself

Why Do We Have Emotions?

1 . _____ emotions are generally associated with forming social bonds, whereas _____ emotions are generally associated with breaking social bonds. (a) Unpleasant; pleasant (b) Pleasant; unpleasant (c) High arousal; low arousal (d) Low arousal; high arousal 2.


According to the affect-as-information hypothesis, people judge something as good or bad by asking themselves which of the following questions? (a) “How do I feel about it?” (b) “What do I think about it?” (c) “When does it affect (d) All of the above me most?”


People generally _____ how long they will feel a particular emotion. (a) underestimate (b) accurately estimate (c) overestimate (d) All of the above, depending on whether the emotion is pleasant or unpleasant


Which of the following emotions motivates people to plan ahead and avoid taking unnecessary risks? (a) Anger (b) Anxiety (c) Happiness (d) Sadness

Answers: 1=b, 2=a, 3=c, 4=b

Individual Differences in Emotion Are Emotions Different Across Cultures? Do people in different cultures have different emotional lives? For many years experts assumed that the answer was yes. They thought that cultural differences would lead to huge differences in inner lives, so that you could not begin to understand how someone from another culture might feel. This view has lost ground, however, and some experts now agree that most emotions may be quite similar across cultural boundaries. Paul Ekman and his colleagues have identified six basic emotions that can be reliably distinguished from facial expressions (see photographs next page): anger, surprise, disgust, happiness (or joy), fear, and sadness. These six basic emotions can be identified in many different cultures. A recent meta-analysis (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002; also see Ekman et al., 1987) showed that people living in 37 countries on five continents could reliably recognize these six basic emotions from photos of facial expressions. These findings suggest that based on facial cues people have similar emotions everywhere and can recognize and understand one another, despite being from very different cultural backgrounds. What about cultural differences in the expression of emotion? Differences in emotional expression are complex, and it is difficult to make global generalizations (Ellsworth, 1994; Mesquita & Frijda, 1992; Scherer & Wallbott, 1994). However, some consistent findings have emerged. Asian Americans generally place a greater emphasis on emotional moderation than European Americans. One study (Tsai, ChentsovaDutton, Freire-Bebeau, & Przymus, 2002) examined facial and physiological responding to the six basic emotions in Asian Americans and European Americans. The study found many more similarities than differences. One exception was that during happiness, fewer Asian Americans than European Americans showed nonDuchenne smiles (the sort of smile you make to be polite, when you aren’t really bursting with joy). Duchenne smiles (suggesting genuine inner joy) involve raising the corner of the lips and contracting the muscles around the eyes, a process that raises the cheeks or opens the mouth (e.g., Messinger, Fogel, & Dickson, 1999, 2001). Another study (Mesquita, 2003) compared emotions in collectivist and individualist contexts. In comparison to people from individualistic cultures, those from collectivist cultures experienced emotions that were based on assessments of social worth,


© LWA-Dann Tardif/Corbis

Cary Wolinsky/Getty Images


Cary Wolinsky/Getty Images

Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

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© Corbis

© Michael Newman/PhotoEdit

Six basic emotions that have been observed in numerous cultures.



were based more on the outer world than on the inner world, and were based more on self–other relationships than on the self. James Russell, a longtime critic of the facial expression–emotion link, has critiqued Ekman’s findings (Russell, 1994, 1995). Russell argues that Ekman’s findings are based on carefully posed faces, whereas photos of spontaneous emotions are less easily recognized. Could it be that everyone can recognize posed facial expressions of emotion but not actual expressions during actual emotion? One reason for this might be that culture teaches people to conceal their emotions. One theme of this book is that nature says go whereas culture says stop. People don’t need culture to teach them how to feel and show emotion. Culture does, however, teach people to hide their feelings, at least sometimes. Many people like children because they show their feelings so freely, but that may be merely because the children have not yet been socialized to hide their feelings. Adults who show all their feelings all the time risk being taken advantage of by others, as well as being mocked or simply disliked. Because most adults have learned not to reveal all their emotions, their facial expressions during actual emotional reactions may be harder to read (especially by people from a different culture) than the expressions of people who are trying to make a particular emotional face, as in Ekman’s research. What should we make of the conflict between Ekman and Russell? Even if the cross-cultural recognition of emotional expressions were entirely limited to carefully posed faces, that universality would still be important. The fact that people can recognize the emotional expressions of someone from a different culture, even sometimes,

Individual Differences in Emotion


Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

shows that there is at least some natural way in which people everywhere are tuned in to the same basic emotions. If Russell is correct that members of different cultures learn to conceal or express their emotions differently, this is important too, but it does not contradict the underlying similarity. The emotional lives and expressions of adult human beings are a product of both nature and culture.

Duchenne smiles involve raising the corner of the lips and contracting the muscles around the eyes, which raises the cheeks or opens the mouth. In this photo, Venus Williams (left), winner of the 2005 Wimbledon Women’s Singles, has a Duchenne smile, whereas runnerup Lindsay Davenport seems to be forcing a smile.

Are Women More Emotional Than Men?

A long-standing stereotype depicts women as more emotional than men. Women are supposed to be more readily overcome with feelings and to be more guided by them, as opposed to men, who make decisions based on cool, rational deliberation. Is this stereotype accurate? A large-scale study by Larson and Pleck (1999) had adult married men and women carry beepers around. Whenever they heard a beep they were supposed to stop what they were doing and fill out a quick rating of their current mood and emotional state. Thousands of emotion reports were obtained in this study of what men and women felt as they went about their daily activities. The result? No gender differences. Men and women were remarkably alike in the degree to which they reported feelings at any point on the emotional continuum—strong bad emotions, strong good ones, mild bad, mild good, neutral. “There was simply no evidence that the husbands were less emotional than their wives,” concluded the researchers (Larson & Pleck, 1999). The researchers also tried breaking down the data into specific emotions, such as anger, guilt, nervousness, anxiety. Still nothing. Men and women had nearly identical reported emotional lives. It wasn’t just that the study was unable to find any differences. When the researchers looked at how people felt apart from emotions, some gender differences did emerge. Men were more likely to report feeling competitive, strong, awkward, and self-conscious, and women more often reported feeling tired. (Those feelings aren’t what people normally call emotions.) The study was able to detect gender differences in some feelings—but in emotions there were apparently no differences to detect. Could the lack of difference be hidden by where people spend their time? One group of researchers (Larson, Richards, & Perry-Jenkins, 1994) tried studying emotion separately at home and at work. Some gender differences emerged, but in the direction opposite to the stereotype of females being more emotional than males. As for negative emotions in particular, men reported more of these at work than women; indeed, men reported anger at work twice as much as women. Nevertheless, the researchers found little evidence that men and women differ greatly or that women are more emotional. Other research with similar methods has obtained similar findings: Daily emotional experience is essentially the same regardless of gender (Larson & Pleck, 1999). Adolescent boys do report extreme positive feelings a little less often than girls, although there is no difference in negative emotions such as anger (Larson & Pleck, 1999). In laboratory studies, women sometimes report stronger emotional reactions (LaFrance & Banaji, 1992), although this outcome could be affected by social norms that put pressure on men to underreport emotional reactions. Lab studies that use physiological measures do not find women to show stronger reactions; if anything, those measures suggest that men sometimes have stronger emotional reactions than women (LaFrance & Banaji, 1992). Observations on small children fit the view of greater emotionality in males. As far back as 1931, research showed that little boys have more frequent angry outbursts and temper tantrums than girls (Goodenough, 1991). Studies of infants either find


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

no difference in emotionality or find that baby boys are more emotionally intense than baby girls (Brody, 1996; Buss, 1989; Rothbart, 1989). Observations of boys’ play indicate that they seek out exciting, arousing themes but try to learn to manage fear and other emotions (Gottman, 1994). In games, boys put an emphasis on keeping their emotions under control so that feelings do not disrupt the game. Disputes are settled by appealing to abstract rules or, if necessary, replaying the disputed event, whereas girls’ games are likely to end when emotion erupts. Partly for this reason, boys’ games last longer than girls’ games. Boys may find it more difficult than girls to calm themselves down when upset, and so they work harder to avoid emotion in the first place. This pattern appears to be maintained in marital interactions: When married couples argue, husbands show stronger and longer-lasting physiological arousal than wives. As a result, husbands tend to avoid marital conflicts, whereas wives are more willing to argue and confront their spouse with problems (Gottman, 1994). All these findings begin to suggest a very different conclusion: Men may be slightly more emotional than women, whereas women feel more willing to report their emotions and claim to have stronger feelings. Social norms may put pressure on men to stifle their emotions and not admit to having strong feelings, but the greater emotionality of women may be an illusion. Similar patterns are found in empathy research: On self-report measures, women claim to have more empathy than men, but when research uses objective measures of understanding the emotional states of others, no difference is found (Eisenberg & Lennon, 1983). Love might be an exception: Men should be willing to admit being in love, and women are supposedly romantic and eager to find love. The view that women love more than men is contradicted by the evidence, however. Men fall in love faster than women, and women fall out of love faster than men (Hill, Rubin, & Peplau, 1976; Huston, Surra, Fitzgerald, & Cate, 1981; Kanin, Davidson, & Scheck, 1970). Men have more experiences of loving someone who does not love them back, whereas women have more experiences of receiving love but not reciprocating it (Baumeister et al., 1993). When a love relationship breaks up, men suffer more intense emotional distress than women (Hill et al., 1976). In short, the traditional stereotype of female emotionality is wrong. Perhaps there is an understandable basis for it. Western society and culture have certainly put more pressure on men than on women to restrain their emotions and to refrain from expressing feelings. Hence as people observed each other, they would have seen women showing a great deal more emotion than men, which could produce the stereotype. Additionally, women have generally been stereotyped as being unable to handle responsibility and as being weak-willed—all of which would encourage a culture to stereotype women as emotional in order to justify denying them power. Based on the research findings, one could even speculate that men are innately more emotional than women. The findings of greater male emotionality in love and work, plus during infancy, fit this pattern. Possibly male emotion has presented problems for society, as when male emotion leads to violence, risk taking, intoxication, and other potential problems. Holding up an ideal of men as cool, rational, and unemotional may be a way for society to keep the dangers of male emotion under control. The general conclusion is that men and women have fairly similar emotional lives. They go through similar ranges of feeling in their daily lives. Slight differences can be found in special contexts—men get angry at work more often or fall in love faster than women—but these small average differences are overshadowed by the larger differences within gender. There are some signs that men’s emotions last longer than women’s. The apparent lack of gender differences in observed emotion may conceal a pattern such that boys and men are actually by nature more emotional but, as a result of this emotionality (and inability to get over the emotion), develop ways of avoiding emotionally intense situations and emotional provocations.

Arousal, Attention, and Performance

Quiz Yourself


Individual Differences in Emotion


How many “basic” facial emotions have been observed across dozens of different cultures? (a) Two (b) Four (c) Six (d) Eight


Which group of Americans places the greatest emphasis on emotional moderation? (a) African Americans (b) European Americans (c) Asian Americans (d) Hispanic Americans


Which of the following lists contains only “basic” facial emotions (i.e., biologically determined, culturally universal in expression)? (a) Anger, disappointment, (b) Fear, hope, surprise disgust (c) Happiness, indifference, (d) Happiness, sadness, sadness surprise


Which of the following is the conclusion of research evidence regarding emotional expression in males and females? (a) Females are more (b) Males are more emotional than males. emotional than females. (c) Males and females (d) None of the above. don’t differ much in how emotional they are. Answers: 1=c, 2=d, 3=c, 4=c

Arousal, Attention, and Performance We noted earlier that emotion contains arousal. Many people believe that emotional arousal is harmful—that it is better to calm down, especially when one is trying to make a logical decision or perform effectively in a crisis. Yet the arousal that goes with emotion seems designed by nature to make a person perform better, not worse. For example, when the person is aroused, more oxygen is sent to the brain and muscles than otherwise. So, is emotional arousal good or bad? One answer can be found in the idea that there is an inverted U-shaped curve between arousal and performance. That is, increasing arousal first makes for better performance, then for worse. Put another way, some arousal is better than none, but too much arousal can hurt performance. This view was proposed back in 1908 by Yerkes and Dodson (1908), based on studies with rats. ● Figure 6.7 illustrates this ● Figure 6.7 Yerkes–Dodson law. The curve is lower for complex tasks than for difficult tasks because performance is generally lower for difficult tasks. In both cases, though, the According to the Yerkes–Dodson link between arousal and performance resembles an inverted (upside-down) U, going Law, some arousal is better than up and then back down. none, but too much can hurt performance. Arousal also seems good for narrowing and focusing attention. This is probably why people drink coffee Good or tea when they work: They want to be alert and focused, and getting a drink that arouses them will Optimum level of arousal produce that state. A famous theory by psychologist J. A. Easterbrook (1959) proposed that one major effect Simple task of arousal is to narrow attention, and this can explain both slopes of the inverted U-shaped curve that Yerkes and Dodson spoke about. Easterbrook’s main idea was that arousal makes the mind eliminate information and focus more narrowly. When people have very low Complex task arousal, they do not perform very well because the mind is deluged with all sorts of information (including much that is unhelpful or irrelevant, such as noise outside when you are studying), and so it has a difficult Poor Low High time focusing on the task at hand. As arousal increases, Level of arousal the mind first screens out irrelevant information, which Yerkes–Dodson law the proposition


that some arousal is better than none, but too much can hurt performance


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

helps it focus better on the task at hand, and performance improves. At some point, corresponding to the peak on the curve and the best possible performance, the mind is processing all the information relevant to the task and nothing else. That’s when you do your best work. However, as arousal increases beyond that point, the mind continues to focus ever more narrowly—and this further narrowing requires that it throw out helpful, task-relevant information (because all the irrelevant information has already been screened out, so only the good stuff is left). Hence highly aroused people will be intensely, narrowly focused on what they are doing, but they may miss crucial information that is relevant or helpful. As a result, they end up performing worse than people with a medium level of arousal. The effects of stress on thinking appear to go along with Easterbrook’s theory (Chajut & Algum, 2003). Under stress, people focus more narrowly on the task at hand, and so up to a point, stress makes people perform better—but beyond that point, stress makes people ignore relevant information. Research using multiple choice tests has shown how this can happen. Under stress, people just scan the multiple answers until they find one that seems correct, and they pick that one, sometimes without considering all the options. Thus, if answer B sounds good, they might choose it without even considering answer D. This gets them done faster, but they may make more mistakes, especially if D was really a better answer than B (Keinan, 1987; Keinan, Friedland, & Ben-Porath, 1987).

Quiz Yourself

Arousal, Attention, and Performance


According to the Yerkes–Dodson law, there is a _____ curve between arousal and performance. (a) bell-shaped (b) inverted U-shaped (c) J-shaped (d) U-shaped


According to Easterbrook, arousal influences performance by _____ attention. (a) broadening (b) decreasing (c) increasing (d) narrowing


The curve between arousal and performance is _____ for complex tasks in comparison to simple tasks. (a) broader (b) higher (c) lower (d) narrower


Under high levels of arousal, what answer on a four-item multiple choice test are students least likely to consider? (a) Answer A (b) Answer B (c) Answer C (d) Answer D Answers: 1=b, 2=c, 3=d, 4=d

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Many people with IQs of 160 work for people with IQs of 100, if the former have poor interpersonal intelligence and the latter have a high one. —Howard Gardner

emotional intelligence (EQ) the ability to perceive, access and generate, understand, and reflectively regulate emotions

In the summer of 1987 Peter Salovey asked his friend John Mayer to help him paint the living room of his new house (Paul, 1999). Neither of them was a professional painter. Both were psychology professors who had done research on emotions. Generally, intellect and emotions are viewed as opposites. While painting, Salovey and Mayer wondered if there were points of intersection between the fields of emotion and intelligence. “Maybe it was the paint fumes,” Mayer joked. Three years later, they published an article on the topic of emotional intelligence (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). They defined emotional intelligence as “the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to under-

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

a. tension 1




b. rage





c. joy





● Figure 6.8

Sample item from the Facilitating Thought branch of the Mayer– Salovey–Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT).

Emotional Intelligence


What is the acronym for emotional intelligence? (a) EI (b) EQ (c) IQ (d) None of the above


Which branch of emotional intelligence involves the most basic psychological processes? (a) Facilitating thought (b) Perceiving emotions (c) Managing emotions (d) Understanding emotions


Which branch of emotional intelligence involves the most psychologically integrated processes? (a) Facilitating thought (b) Perceiving emotions (c) Managing emotions (d) Understanding emotions


Who introduced the concept of emotional intelligence to a much wider, popular audience? (a) David Caruso (b) Daniel Goleman (c) John Mayer (d) Peter Salovey Answers: 1=b, 2=b, 3=c, 4=b

Quiz Yourself

From MSCEIT by John D. Mayer, Peter Saloway, and David R. Caruso. Copyright © Multi-Health Systems, Inc. Reprinted by permission.

stand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth” (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). Emotional intelligence is denoted by EQ rather than Useful IQ. The topic of emotional intelligence is widely popular in business cir5 cles. For example, when the Harvard Business Review published an article 5 on the topic in 1998, it attracted more readers than any article published 5 in the Harvard Business Review in the previous 40 years (Cherniss, 2000). When the CEO of Johnson & Johnson read that article, he was so impressed that he sent copies to the 400 top executives in the company worldwide (Cherniss, 2000). In collaboration with their colleague David Caruso, John Mayer and Peter Salovey developed a scale to measure emotional intelligence called the Mayer–Salovey–Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT; Brackett & Salovey, 2004; Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2002; Mayer, Salovey, Caruso, & Sitarenios, 2003). The scale contains 141 items that measure four branches of emotional intelligence,. The first branch, Perceiving Emotions, is defined as the ability to recognize how you and those around you are feeling. It also involves perceiving emotions in objects, art, stories, music, and other stimuli. The second branch, Facilitating Thought, is defined as the ability to generate an emotion and then reason with this emotion. A sample item from this branch is given in ● Figure 6.8. The third branch, Understanding Emotions, is defined as the ability to understand complex emotions and how emotions can transition from one stage to another. The fourth branch, Managing Emotions, is defined as the ability to be open to feelings, and to modulate them in oneself and others so as to promote personal understanding and growth. According to Mayer and Salovey, the branches are arranged from basic processes to more higher-ordered processes. There is some evidence indicating that emotional intelligence leads to success. For example, in one study (Lopes, Brackett, Nezlek, Schultz, Sellin, & Salovey, 2004), employees from a Fortune 400 insurance company who had high emotional intelligence scores historically received greater merit increases, held higher company rank, and received higher ratings from peers and supervisors than did employees with low scores. In other studies (Lopes et al., in press), American and German college students with high scores on the MSCEIT had better quality relationships with friends than did people with low scores. The concept of emotional intelligence reached a much wider, popular audience through a 1995 trade book by Daniel Goleman, who used the concept in a much broader way to include more material. Goleman (1995a) equated emotional intelligence with “maturity” and “character,” and he suggested that emotional intelligence (called EQ) was a better predictor of success than IQ, though this was his own conclusion rather than a clear finding from scientific studies (despite its popularity). Most likely, both “normal” intelligence and emotional intelligence have value for promoting success in life, and either one may be more useful in any given field.

What mood(s) might be helpful to feel when searching a spreadsheet for errors? Not Useful



Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

Affect Regulation One reason that emotional intelligence is beneficial is that it can help people control and regulate their feelings. When emotions run out of control, they can wreak havoc on inner and interpersonal processes. Indeed, so-called mental illness is often marked by severe emotional problems, and some experts have concluded that people who are poor at controlling their own emotional reactions are more likely to fall victim to such mental illnesses (Bradley, 1990; Greenspan & Porges, 1984; Van Praag, 1990). Indeed, the importance of how people handle their emotional states was evident in the pair of stories with which we began this chapter. These concerned two men who were both upset about junk e-mail, but who regulated their emotions differently. One man (Charles Booher) responded with angry messages and threats, with the result that he was arrested. The other man (Brad Turcotte) used music and humor to transform the upsetting e-mail into a creative product that would entertain himself and other people. Chapter 4 presented research on self-regulation, and we saw that the ability to self-regulate is important and valuable in many spheres of life. People do regularly seek to control their thoughts, desires, and actions. They often try to control emotions too, but there is an added difficulty: For the most part, emotions cannot be directly controlled. That is, if you are feeling bad, you cannot just decide to be happy and succeed by a simple act of will, in the same sense that you can drag yourself out of bed when you don’t feel like getting up. Emotion control is a special case of selfregulation, and generally people have to rely on indirect strategies.

How to Cheer Up Thayer, Newman, and McClain (1994) undertook an ambitious attempt to map out people’s affect regulation strategies. They used a series of questionnaire studies to find out what strategies people use to cope with a bad mood and make themselves feel better. Their list of strategies points to the different ways that emotion and mood can be altered. One strategy is simply to do things that produce good feelings. People may cheer themselves up by eating something tasty, having sex, listening to music, or shopping (especially buying oneself a gift; Cohen & Andrade, 2004; Mick & DeMoss, 1990). A strategy that overlaps with this involves simply doing something to take one’s mind off the problem, such as watching television, changing one’s location, avoiding the source of the problem, or taking a shower. Note that neither of these strategies addresses the original problem or source of bad feelings; instead, people seek to create a positive, pleasant state to replace the unhappy one. Earlier in this chapter we saw that physical arousal is an important part of emotion. Hence for many people, raising or lowering their arousal is a promising strategy for affect regulation (Thayer et al., 1994). Arousal control strategies include exercise, drinking coffee or other caffeine, drinking alcohol, taking a nap, and using relaxation techniques. Exercise may be an especially interesting strategy because at first it increases arousal but later, as one gets tired, reduces it. Seeking social support is another common strategy for controlling emotion. People may call their friends when they feel bad. Others go out and actively seek others’ company. This fits our theme of putting people first: Even to deal with their own problem emotions, people turn to other people. When you are upset about almost anything, you can go spend time with people who like you, and the odds are good that you will end up feeling better. Note that this does not solve the original problem that made you feel bad, but it does help you stop feeling bad. A very different set of affect regulation strategies is based on trying to deal directly with the problem (the one that gave rise to the bad feelings) in some way. Many people report trying to reframe the problem, as by putting it into perspective or trying to see a conflict from the other person’s side. Some try to use humor to

Affect Regulation


make light of the problem and cheer themselves up. Others seek to vent their feelings, as by pounding a pillow, screaming, or crying (venting might feel good, but it usually just makes things worse). Religious activities such as praying help some people cope with their troubles; indeed, some studies have found religious activities rated as among the most effective strategies for regulating affect (e.g., Rippere, 1977). To be sure, many of the strategies may work by more than one means. Exercise might bring both distraction and arousal control. Making jokes may be a way of spending time with others and reframing the problem as less serious than it seemed at first. Having sex may generate good feelings, distract one from the problem, and create a state of tiredness. If you’re upset about having lost $100 because of a stupid purchasing decision, then making jokes or having sex or playing racquetball does not change the original problem in the least, but it could make you feel better. Not all strategies are equally effective. Thayer et al. (1994) reported that the data are very complex, but if people had to choose one as most effective, it might be exercise. Listening to music was also rated very highly as effective for changing a bad mood, as was seeking out social support. At the other extreme, watching television and trying to be alone were rated among the least successful ways of coping with a bad mood.

Affect Regulation Goals In principle, there are at least six different goals of affect regulation: One can seek to get into, get out of, or prolong a good mood, and the same three options apply to a bad mood (Tice & Bratslavsky, 2000). At first you might wonder why anyone would ever want to get out of a good mood or into a bad one, but in some situations it is inappropriate or even counterproductive to seem (or feel) overly happy. A physician may be in a terrifically happy mood one day, for example, but if he has to tell a patient that her illness is incurable and that she will die soon, a beaming smile may seem out of place. Likewise, an activist who has to present a case of injustice may find that an angry mood will be more effective than a cheerful, happy-go-lucky one. In particular, people often seek to cultivate neutral moods prior to social interactions. In a series of laboratory studies, Erber, Wegner, and Therriault (1994) first induced good or bad moods by exposing participants to music, and then allowed them to select either cheerful or depressing reading material. Some participants expected to meet and talk with someone new; these participants chose reading material opposite to their current mood, presumably as a way to bring them out of their current feeling and bring them into a cool, neutral mood. In those cases, happy people chose sad readings, and sad people chose happy ones. (In contrast, people who did not anticipate an interaction chose mood-congruent readings—happy people chose happy readings, and sad people chose sad ones.) The implication is that people get ready for social interaction with a new partner by trying to get out of either a good or bad mood and into a neutral state. Further work has shown that how people regulate their emotional states prior to social interaction is often very specific to the context (Erber & Erber, 2000). People who expect to interact with a depressed person often seek out positive stimuli that will make them even happier—possibly because they expect (rightly) that it will be depressing to talk to a depressed person and they want to fortify themselves with an extra good mood to help them resist being brought down. People who are going to interact with a close relationship partner do not seem to change their moods, possibly because they intend to share their good or bad feelings with the partner. In any case, it is clearly wrong to propose that all affect regulation is aimed at trying to feel better right away.

Gender Differences in Emotion Control Strategies Men and women may cope with bad moods in some different ways, although in general we support the view that men and women are more similar than different (Hyde,


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

2005). One general theory is that when feeling depressed, women frequently respond with rumination, as in thinking about the problem, whereas men more commonly try to distract themselves with other thoughts or activities (e.g., Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991). This may contribute to the higher rate of depression among women, because ruminating about why you are depressed is more likely to prolong the bad feelings than shifting your attention onto something more cheerful, such as a sports event or hobby. Men often seek to keep themselves busy doing some task or chore, which not only may take their mind off their troubles but may also furnish some good feelings of success and efficacy if they can achieve something useful. Another difference can be found in what people consume. Women are more likely than men to turn to food when they feel bad (Forster & Jeffery, 1986; Grunberg & Straub, 1992). In contrast, men turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with the same feelings (Berkowitz & Perkins, 1987; Dube, Kumar, Kumar, & Gupta, 1978; Engs & Hanson, 1990; Richman & Flaherty, 1986). In a nutshell, women eat and men drink to regulate their moods. Thayer et al. (1994) identified other gender differences in mood regulation strategies. When seeking to feel better, men are more likely than women to use humor to make light of the problem (a tendency that some women may find annoying if they do not think the problem is funny!). Men are also more prone to report that sexual activity is a good way to improve their emotional state. In contrast, women are more likely to go shopping or to call someone to talk about the issue. Of course, as we saw in the earlier section on gender and emotion, men and women are far more similar than different in their overall experiences with emotion.

Is It Safe? Is affect regulation a good idea? This chapter has emphasized that people have emotions for good reasons; if you prevent your emotions from functioning in their normal and natural manner, you may deprive yourself of their valuable guidance. We saw that people who lack emotions often have difficulty finding their way through life. On the other hand, we have seen that poor emotion regulation can also point the way to mental illness and other problems. How can this seeming contradiction be resolved? You would not want to live without emotions entirely. Then again, emotions are an imperfect system. Sometimes, undoubtedly, emotions overreact to a situation; in particular, they may last past the point at which they have served their function. One expert described emotion regulation as “the ability to hang up the phone after getting the message” (Larsen, 2000, p. 129), and this seems a very apt characterization. Once emotions have done their job, it may be useful to be able to control them. In any case, culture teaches people that displays of emotion are inappropriate on many occasions. To be a successful member of almost any human society requires the ability to regulate one’s emotional reactions to some degree.

Quiz Yourself

Affect Regulation


There is a(n) _____ relationship between emotional control and mental health. (a) inverted-U (b) negative (c) null (d) positive


Before interacting with someone who is depressed, what type of stimuli do people seek out? (a) Angry (b) Frightening (c) Happy (d) Sad


What is the most effective strategy for improving a bad mood? (a) Exercise (b) Trying to be alone (c) Watching television (d) All of the above are equally effective for improving a bad mood.


To regulate their moods, women tend to _____, whereas men tend to _____. (a) eat; drink (b) ruminate; distract themselves (c) not use humor; use (d) All of the above humor Answers: 1=d, 2=a, 3=c, 4=d

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective


What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective


umans are hardly the only species to have feelings. Fear, rage, joy, and even something close to love can be found in other animals. But human emotion is special in certain ways. Probably the most important is that human emotion is tied to meaning. People can respond emotionally to ideas, concepts, and the like. They cry at weddings, not because the spectacle of marriage is inherently sad, but because the idea of pledging to love the same person for the rest of one’s life is deeply meaningful. Likewise, some ideas, such as freedom, justice, and nationality, have so much emotional power that they can make people willing to sacrifice their lives for them. The importance of meaning, and thus of ideas, in human emotion is also reflected in Schachter and Singer’s theory, which emphasizes that a bodily reaction needs a cognitive label (an idea) in order to become a full-fledged emotion. Ideas are also central to human happiness. An animal is happy or unhappy depending mainly on what has happened in the last few minutes, but people can reflect on their lives as a whole and be satisfied or discontented. The power of ideas also enables people to suffer (or benefit) from misattribution of arousal, because the use of cognitive labels for inner states creates the possibility of switching labels or attaching a mistaken label. One emotion can be converted into another, as in the study in which fear and relief (from the suspension bridge) were converted into romantic attraction. Ideas can transform emotions, even after the bodily response is already in full gear. Ideas also give human beings a larger range of subtle emotional differences than is found in most other species. As we said, many animals show fear, rage, and joy, but human beings have hundreds of different words for emotional states. Humans probably have so many different words for emotion because there are so many subtle differences in their emotional states. Being able to process so many subtly different ideas enables human emotion to be fine-tuned into many more subtly different grades of feeling. Emotions are probably a vital help to people in navigating the long road to social acceptance. People who lack emotions do not fare well in human society. The distinctive complexity of human emotion is probably tied to some of the other tools we have seen that humans use to cultivate social acceptance. The human self, for example, is more elaborate and complex than what other animals have, and the complex self brings with it self-conscious emotions that inform and aid its activities. As an important example, the distinction between guilt and shame (doing a bad thing versus being a bad person) is probably beyond what most animals could understand; humans may be the only creatures who make use of that distinction. Emotion is also linked to cognition (another tool used by humans on the road to social acceptance) in many and complex ways. We have already suggested that the human capacity for meaningful thought produces many more shades of emotional experience than would otherwise be possible, including many subtle distinctions between similar emotions (again, think of guilt versus shame). Humans are able to rely on anticipated emotion in their decision making, and even if their affective forecasting is sometimes off base, it can still inform and help human decision making in ways that would be impossible for almost any other creature. The cognitive capabilities of human beings enable them to learn about their emotions too. Emotional intelligence is a concept that may be largely useless in discussing most other animals, but many people develop an emotional intelligence that can sometimes be more useful than other forms of intelligence. Emotional intelligence—using the ideas associated with emotions—enables people to function and succeed better amid the complexities of human society and culture. Emotional intelligence includes the power to regulate one’s emotions (as in trying to control one’s emotional state), and humans have cultivated that power much


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

more than other animals. People learn how to conceal their emotions, which may be an important manifestation of the general principle that nature says go (that is, the same kinds of events produce the same emotions in all cultures) while culture says stop (people learn to hide or express their emotions differently depending on cultural norms and rules). Emotion regulation itself—such as in trying to stop feeling angry or to cheer up—shows how people deliberately exert control over their inner states. The very pursuit of happiness is also something that makes us human, because it depends on several unique human abilities, such as the ability to think about a different emotional state from what one is currently feeling, to form a goal of moving from one state to another, to integrate inner states across time (remember, only humans can understand happiness in terms of broad satisfaction with one’s life in general), and to save up information about how to move from one state into a happier one. Ultimately, emotions make human life more meaningful and satisfying. A human life without emotion would be handicapped because a person without emotions would be without an important tool, but there is more to it than that: A life without emotion would be empty and dull. Human beings care about their emotional lives in ways that other animals almost certainly don’t.

Chapter Summary What Is Emotion? ●

Emotions are mostly outside our conscious control, even though we may feel them consciously. An emotion is a conscious reaction to something; a mood is a feeling state that is not clearly linked to some event; affect is the automatic response that something is good or bad (liking versus disliking). Positive affect encompasses all good emotions, such as joy, bliss, love, and contentment; negative affect encompasses all bad emotions, such as anger, anxiety, fear, jealousy, and grief. The English language has almost twice as many negative emotion words as positive emotion words.

Emotional Arousal ●

Emotions have both mental aspects (such as subjective feelings and interpretations) and physical ones (such as a racing heartbeat or tears). James and Lange proposed that the bodily processes of emotion come first, and then the mind’s perception of these bodily reactions creates the subjective feeling of emotion. Proponents of the James–Lange theory of emotion failed to find specific arousal patterns for different emotions. According to the facial feedback hypothesis, feedback from the face muscles evokes or magnifies emotions. Cannon and Bard proposed that the thalamus sends two messages at the same time in response to an emotional stimulus. One message is sent to the cortex, which produces an experienced emotion (e.g., fear). The other message is sent to the hypothalamus and autonomic nervous system, producing physiological arousal (e.g., increased heart rate).

Schachter and Singer proposed that emotion has two components. One, the bodily state of arousal, is the same in all emotions. The other, the cognitive label, is different for each emotion. Sexual stimulation may affect the brain, the genitals, neither, or both. In excitation transfer, the arousal from one event transfers to a subsequent event.

Some Important Emotions ●

Affect balance is the frequency of positive emotions minus the frequency of negative emotions. Couples who have children are less happy than couples who do not have children. People who are alone in the world are much less happy than people who have strong, rich social networks. The hedonic treadmill describes the tendency to revert to one’s usual level of happiness soon after an emotional event. Happiness is rooted in one’s outlook and approach to life, as well as in one’s genes. Forgiving others, being grateful for blessings, practicing religious beliefs, sharing good feelings, and being optimistic can all increase happiness. Happiness is linked to a variety of good outcomes, including health and success in life. Anger is an emotional response to a real or imagined threat or provocation. The catharsis theory holds that expressing anger produces a healthy release of emotion and is therefore good for the psyche, but research demonstrates that catharsis increases anger and aggression and has negative health consequences.

Chapter Summary ●

Shame is usually destructive, whereas guilt is usually constructive. Guilt motivates people to do good acts and make amends to repair damage to relationships.

● ●

At least two basic arousal patterns—pleasant and unpleasant—underlie emotions. Emotions comprise an important and powerful feedback system, telling us whether something is good or bad. Positive emotions are linked to forming social bonds, whereas bad emotions are linked to various events that end, damage, or threaten relationships. Emotion rarely causes behavior directly. People who lack emotions have great difficulty adjusting to life and making decisions. Emotions help people learn from their mistakes. Without emotions, people don’t learn. According to the affect-as-information hypothesis, people judge something as good or bad by asking themselves how they feel about it. Affective forecasting is the ability to predict one’s emotional reactions to future events. According to the risk-as-feelings hypothesis, people react to risky situations based on how severe the situation is and how likely it is to occur. Strong conscious emotions can also influence people to engage in risky behavior and ignore future consequences. Emotions call attention to good and bad outcomes but seem to make people disregard probabilities and odds. The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions suggests that positive emotions expand an individual’s attention and mind-set, which in turn, builds an individual’s resources. Positive moods can increase flexibility, creativity, and problem-solving ability. People in a good mood perform better, are more persistent, try harder, and are more motivated than are people in a neutral mood.

Good moods can serve a protective function because individuals in a good mood tend to avoid taking risks.

Individual Differences in Emotion ●

Why Do We Have Emotions? ●

Six basic emotions have been observed in numerous cultures: anger, surprise, disgust, happiness, fear, and sadness. People of different cultures can reliably recognize posed facial expressions of these emotions. Men and women have similar emotional lives. Men may be slightly more emotional than women, but women may feel more willing to report their emotions and claim to have stronger feelings. Men fall in love faster than women, and women fall out of love faster than men.

Arousal, Attention, and Performance ●

Arousal serves to narrow and focus attention. Some arousal is better than none, but too much arousal can hurt performance.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) ●

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.

Affect Regulation ●

People attempt to regulate their emotions by doing things that feel good, distracting themselves from negative emotions, controlling their arousal, seeking social support, or dealing with the emotion-causing issue directly.

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective ●

In humans, emotion is tied to meaning.

> Key Terms affect balance 190 affect 183 affect-as-information hypothesis 203 affective forecasting 204 anger 194 anthropolinguistics 184 arousal 185 automatic affec 183 broaden-and-build theory 206


Cannon–Bard theory of emotion 186 catharsis theory 197 conscious emotion 183 emotion 183 emotional intelligence (EQ) 212 excitation transfer 187 facial feedback hypothesis 185 guilt 198 hedonic treadmill 192

James–Lange theory of emotion 185 life satisfaction 190 mood 183 risk-as-feelings hypothesis 205 Schachter–Singer theory of emotion 186 sham 198 survivor guilt 199 Yerkes–Dodson law 211


Chapter 6: Emotion and Affect

> Media Learning Resources Make sure you check out the complete set of learning resources and study tools below. If your instructor did not order these items with your new book, go to to purchase Thomson Higher Education print and digital products. Social Psychology and Human Nature Book Companion Website Visit your book companion website, where you will find flash cards, practice quizzes, internet links, and more to help you study. Just what you need to know NOW! Spend time on what you need to master rather than on information you already have learned. Take a pretest for this chapter, and ThomsonNOW will generate a personalized study plan based on your results. The study plan will identify the topics you need to review and direct you to online resources to help you master those topics. You can then take a post-test to help you determine the concepts you have mastered and what you will still need to work on. Try it out! Go to to sign in with an access code or to purchase access to this product. Classic and Contemporary Videos Student CD-ROM To see videos on the topics and experiments discussed in this chapter and to learn more about the research that social psychologists are doing today, go to the Student CD-ROM. Social Psych Lab These unique online labs give you the opportunity to become a participant in actual experiments, including re-creations of classic and contemporary research studies.

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Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency What Are Attitudes and Why Do People Have Them? Attitudes Versus Beliefs Dual Attitudes Why People Have Attitudes

Is Bad Stronger Than Good?: Optimism, Pessimism—and Life and Death How Attitudes Are Formed Formation of Attitudes Polarization Consistency Heider’s P-O-X Theory Cognitive Dissonance and Attitude Change

Food for Thought: Would You Eat a Bug or a Worm? Do Attitudes Really Predict Behaviors? Attacking Attitudes Defending Attitudes

The Social Side of Sex: A-B Inconsistency and Erotic Plasticity Conclusion: Attitudes in Action Beliefs and Believing Believing Versus Doubting Belief Perseverance Belief and Coping Religious Belief Irrational Belief

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective


Associated Press

Chapter Summary

Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency


ack Kevorkian was born in 1928 in Pontiac, Michigan, the son of immigrants from Armenia who had fled to escape genocide during World War II. He was a brilliant child. School bored him. Once during sixth grade he was sent to the principal’s office for throwing spitballs. The principal recognized that school was not sufficiently challenging and sent the boy immediately off to junior high school. Kevorkian also rejected the Orthodox Christian faith he had been taught. As a boy, Kevorkian wanted to become a sportscaster, but his family pushed him to do something more serious. He went to medical school. A memorable encounter with a middle-aged woman suffering intensely from incurable cancer left a deep impression on him. He thought that prolonging her life merely prolonged her suffering, and he felt that compassion for her dictated that she deserved a physician who would help her die if she so wanted. “From that moment on, I was sure that doctor-assisted euthanasia and suicide are and always were ethical, no matter what anyone else says or thinks,” as he wrote later in his 1991 book Prescription: Medicine. Death fascinated him. At the hospital where he worked, he tried to take photographs of the eyes of patients just before and just after they died. These efforts earned him the nickname “Doctor Death,” which would later take on a different meaning. He accepted the nickname and even wore a black armband when he rushed through the building trying to set up his camera in time to record a death. The results of his efforts were published in a leading medical journal. Soon after that he began experimenting with transfusing blood from corpses to live patients. Still the brilliant student, he mastered several foreign languages and began reading their medical journals. In one journal he came across evidence that the ancient Greeks had conducted medical experiments on condemned criminals. Intrigued, he visited Death Row at a nearby prison, and some of the convicted criminals said they would consent to being research subjects. He gave a speech at a medical conference advocating doing research on criminals (if they consented) during their executions, to improve medical understanding of the death process and other issues. The speech attracted some publicity. An animal rights group came out in favor, saying that this research would save the lives of lab rats and guinea pigs. Kevorkian’s views embarrassed officials at the University of Michigan, where he was in residence as a physician, and they asked him to either cease his campaign or leave. He left. In 1987 he started advertising in Detroit newspapers as a physician consultant for “death counseling.” In 1988 he published an article with the title “The Last Fearsome Taboo: Medical Aspects of Planned Death.” The article proposed a system of suicide clinics. People would be allowed to die as they chose, with their deaths planned in consultation with their doctors. Medical research could also be conducted in these clinics, allowing for the advancement of knowledge. In 1988 Kevorkian built his first “suicide machine.” It consisted of a gas mask attached to a canister of carbon monoxide. He made it from scrap parts from garage sales and hardware stores, and it cost him about $30. He used it for the first time two years later. The first user was Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old woman who had Alzheimer’s disease. She sat in Kevorkian’s Volkswagen van. He helped her put the mask over her face, but she pushed the button that turned on the machine and terminated her life. Kevorkian was charged with murder, but a judge dismissed the case. Another judge, however, banned him from assisting in any more suicides. Kevorkian defied the ban and helped more people commit suicide. The legal system struggled with how to deal with him. More murder charges were brought—but then dismissed. Some of the judges ruled that assisted suicide is a constitutional right, implying that Kevorkian’s activities were legally acceptable. The Associated Press


What Are Attitudes and Why Do People Have Them?


Gabriel B. Tait/AFP/Getty Images

authorities tried other tactics. His license to practice medicine was revoked. His home state of Michigan passed a law explicitly making it illegal to assist in suicide. But he continued to help people use his suicide machine. Typically they were old people with incurable and painful illnesses. More than 130 patients (or should they be called victims?) found death with his assistance. Kevorkian also gradually embraced his role as martyr for a cause. To court publicity, he refused to make bail and went on hunger strikes in jail. Once he showed up in court wearing a ball and chain and a homemade contraption resembling the stocks that colonial Puritans had used to punish and humiliate those who broke the rules in their community. His cause attracted some support. A group of other physicians declared support for assisted suicide, Oregon passed a “Death with Dignity Act,” and there were scattered court rulings in favor of assisted suicide. A law to make physician-assisted suicide explicitly legal found its way onto the Michigan ballot, but voters rejected it. On September 17, 1998, Kevorkian administered a lethal injection to Thomas Youk, a man who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease. A videotape of the assisted suicide was shown on the CBS program 60 Minutes. A jury found Kevorkian guilty of seconddegree murder in the death of Youk. In his closing argument, the prosecutor described Kevorkian as a “medical hit man in the night with his bag of poison.” The judge would not allow Thomas Youk’s widow or brother to testify, calling it irrelevant to a murder case. She sentenced Kevorkian to 10 to 25 years in prison for the killing of Youk, stating,“ No one, sir, is above the law. No one. You had the audacity to go on national television, show the world what you did and dare the legal system to stop you. Well, sir, consider yourself stopped.” Although the Youk family could not testify in court, they strongly defended Kevorkian’s actions. Youk’s widow, Melody, said her husband could control only his thumb and the first two fingers of one hand, and was losing his ability to speak and to digest food. Youk’s brother, Terry, said, “The truth is my brother made that choice. He initiated the contact and Doctor Kevorkian fulfilled his wishes.” Was Dr. Jack Kervorkian a murderer or a savior? The court said he was a murderer; the family of the deceased considered him a savior (Betzold, 1993; “Jury Deliberates in Kevorkian Murder Trial,” 1999; “Kevorkian Gets 10 to 25 Years in Prison,” 1999; “Kevorkian Verdict,” 1998). This story about Dr. Jack Kevorkian anticipates several themes of this chapter. Attitudes exist in substantial part to help guide behavior, yet often it may seem that people act in ways contrary to their attitudes. When those seeming inconsistencies are examined more closely, however, consistency is often lurking nearby. Although Kevorkian was a doctor, and doctors are supposed to help people live rather than die, Kevorkian has consistently argued that people have a right to die and that physicians should help. Moreover, the story illustrates one of this book’s themes—that inner structures serve interpersonal processes.

On April 13, 1999, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison for assisting Thomas Youk to commit suicide. Youk’s widow and brother (shown here) strongly defended Kevorkian’s actions.

What Are Attitudes and Why Do People Have Them? The concept of the attitude is probably the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary American social psychology. —Gordon W. Allport, 1935


Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency

Why would attitudes be so important? And why specifically to social psychology? Some attitudes seem trivial, but others are clearly important. Dr. Kevorkian went to prison because of his attitudes and the actions based on them. Throughout history, many people have suffered similar fates, and worse, for their attitudes. The importance of attitudes reflects one of this book’s themes, which is the power of ideas. Attitudes are ideas—ideas that often determine how people will act.

Attitudes Versus Beliefs beliefs pieces of information about something; facts or opinions

attitudes global evaluations toward some object or issue

Attitudes differ from beliefs. Beliefs are pieces of information about something, facts or opinions. Attitudes are global evaluations toward some object or issue (e.g., you like or dislike something, you are in favor of or opposed to some position) (Eagly & Chaiken, 1998). If you think that a certain person is president or that it is cloudy outside, that’s a belief. Whether you like this person as president, or the clouds, is your attitude. Logically, attitudes are for choosing, whereas beliefs are for explaining. Beliefs and attitudes both serve interpersonal functions. People need to influence how others choose, and people also need to explain things to others.

Dual Attitudes dual attitudes different evaluations of the same attitude object, implicit versus explicit

implicit attitudes automatic and nonconscious evaluative responses explicit attitudes controlled and conscious evaluative responses

“She says she likes jazz, but somehow she never seems to listen to it, and in fact when it comes on the radio she usually changes the station!” Dual attitudes are defined as different evaluations of the same attitude object: an implicit attitude and an explicit attitude (Wilson et al., 2000). This dual model of attitudes fits the duplex mind theme of this book. It is based on the notion that a person can have different, competing attitudes in the conscious as opposed to the automatic parts of the mind. Implicit attitudes are automatic and nonconscious evaluative responses. In contrast, explicit attitudes are controlled and conscious evaluative responses. Implicit and explicit attitudes may conflict with each other. Unconsciously you may like something that you consciously dislike (e.g., jazz music). In the United States few people from any ethnic group admit to holding racial prejudices, and most sincerely espouse the ideals of racial equality, yet many people show negative automatic responses toward other races (Fazio et al., 1995; Greenwald et al., 1998). The differences between explicit and implicit attitudes have led some researchers to propose that the two attitudes can be unrelated to each other and can serve different functions. Rather than experiencing conflict from holding discrepant dual attitudes, most people simply do not realize that they have an inner conflict. They think their only attitude is the conscious one, because that is what comes to mind when they think about the issue consciously. Russian novelist and philosopher Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote: Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone but only his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.

This quotation highlights two important facts about attitudes. First, there are some private attitudes that we would rather not share with others. Second, we may not be aware of all our own attitudes. Social psychologists Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji and their colleagues developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT) as a measure of implicit attitudes. The IAT measures attitudes and beliefs that people are either unwilling or unable to report. For example, one IAT examines implicit attitudes toward the elderly. The test shows that most Americans have an automatic preference for young over old people. First, participants report their explicit attitudes toward young and old people. For example, one question asks, “Which statement best describes you?” ● ●

I strongly prefer young people to old people. I moderately prefer young people to old people.

What Are Attitudes and Why Do People Have Them? ● ● ●

stigma an attribute that is perceived by others as broadly negative


I like young people and old people equally. I moderately prefer old people to young people. I strongly prefer old people to young people.

Next, participants complete the implicit measure of attitudes. They classify words or images into categories as quickly as possible while making as few mistakes as possible. For the first test, they press one button if the words or images are “young or good” and they press another button if the words or images are “old or bad.” The “good” words are joy, love, peace, wonderful, pleasure, glorious, laughter, and happy. The “bad” words are agony, terrible, horrible, nasty, evil, awful, failure, and hurt. The images are faces of young and old people. For the second test, the pairings are reversed (i.e., “young or bad” versus “old or good”). Most people respond more slowly to the second test than to the first. Remarkably, this preference for young faces is just as strong in participants over 60 as in participants under 20! The authors of the IAT suggest that the preference occurs because the elderly are a stigmatized group. The influential sociologist Erving Goffman (1963) used the term stigma to refer to an attribute that is “deeply discrediting” (p. 3). Other stigmatized groups include sick people, poor people, obese people, and mentally ill people (see Chapter 12 for more details). The people who developed the IAT claim that it is a direct measure of prejudice. Other versions of the IAT use black and white faces, Arab and European faces, and fat and thin faces, instead of old and young faces. Critics suggest that the IAT is tainted by other factors (Gehring et al., 2003). Why might people respond faster when “old” is paired with “bad” than with “good”? Possibly because they think old people are bad. Alternately, “old” might be associated with “bad” because the media contain more bad information about old than about young people.

Why People Have Attitudes Most animals don’t need very many attitudes. They know what they like to eat (what tastes good), what fellow animals they like or dislike, and where they like to sleep. Their world is not very complex, and a few simple attitudes can serve them well. In contrast, human life is now highly complex, and people need to have a broad assortment of attitudes. People are asked to vote on many issues and candidates in elections. When shopping they are presented with literally thousands of different choices within one supermarket or department store. Even if they know they want a particular product, such as a pair of gloves, they face a vast array of potential choices, and having some attitudes (e.g., mittens are better than gloves because they are warmer, or gloves are better than mittens because the fingers are more usable; leather is fashionable, but harder to maintain, plus some animal had to die; and will brown gloves clash with my blue coat?). Attitudes are necessary and adaptive for humans. They help us adjust to new situations, seeking out those things in our environment that reward us and avoiding those things that punish us. Attitudes can even be a matter of life or death, influencing whether we take health risks or engage in healthy preventive behaviors. Basically, attitudes are just a matter of liking and disliking. The world is full of information (see Chapter 5 on social cognition), but just figuring things out and understanding them isn’t enough. You can only make your way through a complicated world if you can sort things into good and bad. Sure enough, good and bad are among the most basic categories of thought. Although these categories are abstract, children understand them very early in life, especially the category “bad.” In one study of children 2 to 6 years old, bad pictures were more readily identified than good pictures at all ages beyond 2 years, 5 months (Rhine et al., 1967). This finding is consistent with one of the themes of this book—that bad is stronger than good. See Is Bad Stronger Than Good? for another example of this theme. As soon as you know what something is, you start to know whether you like or dislike it (Goleman, 1995). This initial evaluation is immediate and unconscious, occurring in the first microsecond of thought. This initial evaluation even occurs for things people have never encountered before, such as nonsense words. For example,


Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency

Is Bad Stronger Than Good? Optimism, Pessimism—and Life and Death Optimism and pessimism constitute some of the broadest attitudes toward life in general. Optimistic people look on the good side and expect good things to happen. Pessimists focus on the bad things and expect the worst. Optimism and pessimism may seem like opposites, but they are somewhat separate, and an important measure allows them to be measured separately (Scheier & Carver, 1985). Perhaps it is hard to be both an optimist and a pessimist, but it is certainly possible to be neither. Being optimistic is healthier than being pessimistic. But the effect of optimism appears to be weaker. In one study that followed people’s physical health over multiple years,

pessimism in one year was related to more anxiety, stress, and poorer physical health the next year, whereas optimism showed no relationship (Robinson-Whelen, Kim, MacCallum, & Kiecolt-Glaser, 1997). Perhaps some of those data are biased because pessimists complain more (and hence report more problems on their questionnaires). One measure that is not affected by such self-report bias is death. In an important study of cancer patients (Schulz, Bookwala, Knapp, Scheier, & Williamson, 1996), pessimists were more likely to die, especially among the younger (ages 30–59) patients. Optimism made no difference.

one study found that among English speakers the nonsense word juvalamu is very pleasing, the nonsense word bargulum is moderately pleasing, and the nonsense word chakaka is very displeasing (Bargh et al., 1996). Although people can easily override the initial evaluation with further thought, the initial evaluation stands if no further thought is given. According to John Bargh, the lead author on the study (and no doubt the inspiration for the word bargulum!), “We have yet to find something the mind regards with complete impartiality, without at least a mild judgment of liking or disliking” (Goleman, 1995). Put another way, people have attitudes about everything. Attitudes are also tremendously helpful in making choices. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what person you think ought to be chosen to win the prize on American Idol. When you have to choose what courses to take next semester, however, you will find that attitudes come in very handy. Without attitudes, there is a bewildering array of options, all respectable intellectual endeavors, all taught by presumably competent faculty, all offering useful knowledge or at least something interesting. How can you choose, unless you have attitudes that say this course will be more satisfying, or that one will be more useful to your chosen career, and that other one is likely to be a dreadful and painful slog? Previous research has shown that possessing an attitude increases the ease, speed, and quality of decision making (Fazio et al., 1992). Thus, attitudes appear to have great functional value. In one study (Fazio & Powell, 1997), freshmen college students completed measures of negative life events and health at two points in time. Students who entered college knowing their likes and dislikes on academically relevant issues experienced better physical and mental health in the new college setting than did other students. Attitudes are good for your health! What Are Attitudes and Why Do People Have Them?


Which concept can be defined as pieces of information (facts or opinions) about something? (a) Attitudes (b) Beliefs (c) Intentions (d) Values


Which concept can be defined as a global evaluation? (a) Attitude (b) Belief (c) Intention (d) Value


Conscious is to unconscious as _____ is to _____. (a) explicit attitude; (b) implicit attitude; implicit attitude explicit attitude (c) primacy effect; (d) recency effect; recency effect primacy effect


What is the Implicit Association Test (IAT) used to measure? (a) Beliefs (b) Explicit attitudes (c) Implicit attitudes (d) Intentions Answers: 1=b, 2=a, 3=a, 4=c

Quiz Yourself

How Attitudes Are Formed


How Attitudes Are Formed Formation of Attitudes Several explanations have been offered for how attitudes are formed. We look at relatively simple explanations (mere exposure, classical conditioning) and also at more complicated explanations (operant conditioning, social learning). Mere Exposure Effect. Most people have heard the aphorism “Familiarity breeds con-

tempt.” It is false. More than 200 studies have shown that “Familiarity breeds liking” (Bornstein, 1989). The mere exposure effect is the tendency for novel stimuli to be for people to come to like things simliked more after the individual has been repeatedly exposed to them. In 1968, the influply because they see or encounter ential social psychologist Robert Zajonc proposed that “mere repeated exposure of the them repeatedly individual to a stimulus is a sufficient condition for the enhancement of his attitude toward it” (p. 1). In plainer terms, just seeing something over and over is enough to make you like it. There is one qualification. If you initially dislike something, being exposed to it repeatedly will not make you like it more. In fact, it will make you like it less (e.g., Cacioppo & Petty, 1989; Klinger & Greenwald, 1994). For example, if you ● Figure 7.1 hear a song on the radio that you hate, the more you hear it, the more you will hate it. Relation between frequency of The reverse of the mere exposure effect is also true—liking can breed familiarity. For mere exposure to Turkish words, example, research has shown that people are less critical of a persuasive message if they Chinese-like characters, and have encountered it previously than if they have never encountered it before (Claypool, photographs of men and attitudes toward these stimuli Mackie, Garcia-Marques, McIntosh, & Udall, 2004; Garcia-Marques & Mackie, 2001). (Zajonc, 1968). To test his mere exposure hypothesis, Zajonc (1968) conducted three studies. Participants were exposed to Turkish words, Chinese-like characters, and 6.0 Turkish nonsens words yearbook photographs. The more frequently particiChinese-like characters pants saw each stimulus, the more they liked it (see ● Photographs Figure 7.1). This mere exposure effect also occurs with 4.0 animals other than humans, including crickets (Harrison & Fiscaro, 1974) and chickens (Zajonc et al., 1973). 3.5 The mere exposure effect can also influence attitudes toward oneself. In one study, female college students chose a close female friend to participate in 3.0 the study (Mita et al., 1977). The researchers took a photograph of the student and made two prints from it—a true print and a mirror (reversed) print. Partic2.5 ipants liked the mirror print better than the true print, whereas their friends liked the true print better 0 1 2 5 10 20 25 than the mirror print. Why? Both groups liked what Exposure frequency they were exposed to most frequently. People most commonly see themselves in a reversed image, as when they look in the mirror. In contrast, your friends mostly see your true image, classical conditioning a type of because they look directly at you rather than seeing you in a mirror. A meta-analysis learning in which, through repeated of more than 200 studies showed that the mere exposure effect is very robust, even pairings, a neutral stimulus comes to when stimuli are presented at a subliminal level (Bornstein, 1989). evoke a conditioned response Favorability of attitude

mere exposure effect the tendency

unconditioned stimulus a stimulus (e.g., meat powder) that naturally evokes a particular response (salivation) unconditioned response a naturally occurring response (e.g., salivation)

neutral stimulus a stimulus (e.g., Pavlov’s bell) that initially evokes no response

conditioned stimulus a neutral stimulus that, through repeated pairings with an unconditioned stimulus, comes to evoke a conditioned response

Classical Conditioning. Research has shown that both explicit and implicit attitudes

can be formed through classical conditioning (Olson & Fazio, 2001). Ivan Pavlov, a Nobel Prize–winning Russian scientist, developed the theory of classical conditioning and demonstrated it in his experiments with dogs. Meat powder (unconditioned stimulus) makes the dog’s mouth water, a response called salivation (unconditioned response). The first time a researcher rings a bell (neutral stimulus), the dog does not salivate. However, if the researcher rings the bell every time the dog gets meat powder, the dog begins to expect that every time it hears the bell it will be fed, and the bell becomes a conditioned stimulus. Eventually, the sound of the bell alone will make the dog’s mouth water (conditioned response), even with no food around (see ● Figure 7.2). This principle is one of the foundations of the psychology of learning, and social


Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency

Unconditioned stimulus (meat powder)

Unconditioned response (salivation)

Neutral stimulus (bell)

(no salivation)

Conditioned stimulus (bell)

Conditioned response (salivation)

● Figure 7.2

Ivan Pavlov proposed classical conditioning theory.

psychologists have proposed that it could explain the formation of attitudes in humans. In a sense, Pavlov’s dog developed a positive attitude toward the sound of the bell, where it had not had any attitude before, simply because the dog’s positive attitude toward meat gradually became linked to the sound of the bell. In one study (Staats & Staats, 1958), the word Dutch was systematically paired with positive words (e.g., vacation, gift), whereas the word Swedish was paired with negative words (e.g., bitter, failure). When tested afterwards, participants rated Dutch more positively than Swedish. The pairing was reversed for a second group of participants, and they rated Swedish more positively than Dutch. Classical conditioning may help explain the development of prejudice against social groups that are frequently associated with negative information in the media (Jonas et al., 1995), such as Arabs being associated with terrorism. Advertisers use classical conditioning to their advantage by linking their products with famous or attractive people. For example, the shoe company Nike is named after the Greek goddess of victory. Famous athletes such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods have also endorsed Nike shoes. When an athlete’s image changes for the worse, companies may quickly drop him or her, not necessarily because they condemn the person’s behavior, but because they don’t want the athlete’s negative image to rub off on their product. Operant Conditioning. Attitudes can also be formed through operant conditioning (also called instrumental conditioning). In this type of conditioning, developed by behaviorists such as Edward Thorndike and B. F. Skinner, participants are more likely to repeat behaviors that have been rewarded and less likely to repeat behaviors that have been punished. For example, if parents or teachers praise a child for doing well on math problems, then the child may develop a more positive attitude toward math. In one study (Brown, 1956), students received either an “A” or a “D” (the grade was actually decided by the flip of a coin) on an essay they wrote favoring capital punishment. Even though the grades were randomly determined, students who received an “A” reported more favorable attitudes toward capital punishment than did students who received a “D.” (Don’t worry; your social psychology instructor won’t be assigning grades in your class that way!)

conditioned response a response that, through repeated pairings, is evoked by a formerly neutral stimulus operant conditioning (instrumental conditioning) a type of learning in which people are more likely to repeat behaviors that have been rewarded and less likely to repeat behaviors that have been punished

Social Learning. Attitudes can also be formed through social learning (also called observational learning and vicarious conditioning). In this type of conditioning, people are more likely to imitate behaviors if they have seen others rewarded for performing those behaviors, and are less likely to imitate behaviors if they have seen others punished for performing them. For example, many teens learn what attitudes are acceptable by watching whether other teens are rewarded or punished for endorsing certain music, clothing styles, hairstyles, and convictions (Fiske, 2004). Once again, the capacity to learn from others is important for enabling humans to be cultural beings.

Polarization Sometimes our attitudes about something can become stronger or weaker simply by thinking more about it. When we think about something, we may generate informa-

How Attitudes Are Formed


Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

tion that we did not consider when we formed our initial attitudes. Research suggests that as people reflect on their attitudes they become more extreme, an effect known as attitude polarization (Miller et al., 1993; Tesser, 1976; Wilson et al., 1989, 1995). Even just thinking about an issue can move a person toward holding a more extreme attitude. In addition, people who hold strong attitudes on certain issues are likely to evaluate relevant evidence in a biased manner. They tend to accept at face value evidence that confirms what they already believe, whereas they tend to be more critical of evidence that goes against their beliefs. Thus, even if people see an equal amount of confirming and disconfirming evidence (so that logically their attitude should not change), they become even more convinced of their initial attitudes and adopt them more strongly. The attitude polarization effect is especially likely to occur in people who have strong initial attitudes (Miller et al., 1993). In a famous study by Lord et al. (1979), proponents and opponents of the death penalty read studies about the death penalty. The results showed that both groups were biased in favor of studies that matched their initial opinion on the death penalty. As a result, their attitudes became more polarized—the proponents became more in favor of the death penalty, whereas the opponents became more opposed to it. Attitude polarization occurs partly because people are reluctant to admit they are wrong. As they think more about an issue, they tend to convince themselves that they were right all along. Other studies show that people are more accepting of evidence presented by ingroup members (members of one’s own group) than by outgroup members (members of a different group) (Mackie & Cooper, 1984). People are even more skeptical of evidence presented by outgroup members who are different from themselves. This reflects another theme we have seen repeatedly in this text: putting people first. People rely on others for information, and they especially rely on people who are similar to themselves. If people are biased to accept information from ingroup members, then most groups will tend to hold fairly similar opinions on many issues. This may make it easier for the group to work together. Alternatively, it may foster poor decision making. These issues are discussed in more detail in Chapter 14.

Many viewers’ attitudes about musical performances have been shaped by watching the judges on American Idol. social learning (observational learning, vicarious conditioning) a type of learning in which people are more likely to imitate behaviors if they have seen others rewarded for performing them, and less likely to imitate behaviors if they have seen others punished for performing them

attitude polarization the finding that people’s attitudes become more extreme as they reflect on them

Quiz Yourself

How Attitudes Are Formed


Alissa heard a new song on the radio. A company used the same song in its advertising jingle, and the song was played over and over, so she was repeatedly exposed to the song. Alissa’s attitude toward the song is likely to _____. (a) become ambivalent (b) become more negative (c) become more positive (d) remain the same


Juan wasn’t sure whether he was in favor of capital punishment or not. However, after receiving an “A” on a speech paper denouncing capital punishment, he decides that capital punishment is ineffective and inhumane. This is an example of _____. (a) classical conditioning (b) operant conditioning (c) social learning (d) verbal learning


If the word pink is followed by negative words and frowns from his mother, the toddler learns to respond negatively to the word pink. This is an example of _____. (a) classical conditioning (b) operant conditioning (c) social learning (d) verbal learning


After 3-year-old Davis sees his dad shaving, he covers his own face with shaving cream. This is an example of _____. (a) classical conditioning (b) operant conditioning (c) social learning (d) verbal learning Answers: 1=c, 2=a, 3=b, 4=c


Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency

Consistency Inconsistency does not much trouble dogs or bugs, but people feel some inner pressure to resolve it. To reduce their feelings of inconsistency, people may have to seek out new information or reinterpret old information, realign or even abandon cherished beliefs, or change patterns of behavior. People seem to strive for consistency. Indeed, the story about Jack Kevorkian that opened this chapter was full of consistency: He maintained his belief that it was right to assist suicides over many years, even though this consistency cost him greatly and even landed him in prison. People don’t like it when their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are inconsistent. (Nor do they approve of inconsistency in others!) This drive for consistency is a central component of several theories in social psychology. Most consistency theories have three things in common. First, they specify the conditions that are required for consistency and inconsistency of cognitions. Second, they assume that inconsistency is unpleasant and therefore motivates people to restore consistency. Third, they specify the conditions that are needed to restore consistency. In general, people choose the path of least resistance to restore consistency. Because attitudes are easier to change than behaviors, people often change their attitudes. We review the most influential consistency theories below. We then show how the duplex mind copes with inconsistency.

Heider’s P-O-X Theory balance theory (P-O-X theory) the idea that relationships among one person (P), the other person (O), and an attitude object (X) may be either balanced or unbalanced sentiment relationships in P-O-X theory, relationships that involve attitudes or evaluations unit relationships in P-O-X theory, relationships that involve belongingness

In 1946, social psychologist Fritz Heider proposed balance theory. Balance theory is sometimes called P-O-X theory because it focuses on situations containing three elements (triads): the person (P), the other person (O), and the attitude object (X). Two types of relationships exist among elements: sentiment and unit. Sentiment relationships involve attitudes or evaluations (e.g., P likes O; P favors issue X). Unit relationships involve possession (e.g., P dates O; P owns X). Heider proposed that a person’s understanding of the relationships among P, O, and X was either “balanced” or “unbalanced.” Balanced is the term for consistency. (For example, the principle that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” is balanced, because there is something consistent about liking the person who has attacked your enemy.) A sign, + or –, is assigned to each relationship. To determine whether balance exists, simply multiply the signs together. If the outcome is positive, the cognitive structure is balanced (consistent). If the outcome is negative, it is unbalanced (see ● Figure 7.3). Balance theory states that balanced states are preferred over unbalanced states, and that unbalanced states motivate people to change them to balanced states. This was Heider’s way of saying that people prefer and seek consistency. In an early study (Heider, 1958), participants were shown triads like the one shown in ● Figure 7.4. Jim doesn’t like Bob, but he likes the poem that Bob wrote. About 80% of participants said P




● Figure 7.3

P represents the person, O represents the other person, and X represents the attitude object. The top four triangles represent balanced states (because the outcome is positive when the signs are multiplied together). The bottom four triangles represent unbalanced states (because the outcome is negative when the signs are multiplied together).

⫹ O

⫺ X




⫹ X


⫹ X


⫺ X




⫹ ⫹

⫺ ⫺


⫹ ⫺

⫹ ⫺


⫺ ⫹

⫺ X


⫺ X


⫺ ⫺


Consistency ● Figure 7.4

Example of a cognitive structure. Jim doesn’t like Bob (– sign between the two), but he likes the poem (+ sign between Bob and the poem) that Bob wrote (+ sign between Bob and the poem). Is this balanced or unbalanced?

● Figure 7.5

A more complex cognitive structure, where P represents you, the O’s represent other people, and the X’s represent issues.


something needed to change. Most recommended changing the relationship with Jim Bob (e.g., Bob isn’t so bad after all). About a third recommended changing Jim’s attitude toward the poem (e.g., the poem is bad). About 5% ⫺ ⫹ recommended changing the relationship between Bob and the poem (e.g., Bob must Jim Poem ⫹ have plagiarized the poem!). All triads contain a P, but they may contain two O’s rather than one O and one X. In addition, more than one triad can be combined, as shown in ● Figure 7.5. You Social (P) like social psychology (X1), and you KKK psychology (X2) (X ) also like your sister (O1). You don’t like ⴚ 1 Vinny (O2), but your sister loves him. You don’t like street drugs (X4), but Vinny ⴙ ⴙ ⴚ ⴙ likes them. Street drugs are associated with violence (X3), and you don’t like Violence Sister P ⴚ ⴙ violence either. You don’t like the Ku Klux (X3) (O1) Klan (X2), a group also associated with ⴚ ⴚ ⴙ ⴙ violence. Is the cognitive structure balanced? The easiest way to tell is to count the number of negative signs. If the numⴙ Street Vinny ber of negative signs is odd, the structure drugs (O2) (X4) is unbalanced. Otherwise it is balanced. Because there are five negative signs, the structure is unbalanced. Let’s hope your sister dumps Vinny! Although Heider’s balance theory appeals to many people on an intuitive or commonsense level, it does have a few problems. It assumes that relationships are symmetrical when they may not be. For example, the fact that P likes O does not necessarily mean that O also likes P (Cartwright & Haray, 1956). It does not assess the relative or absolute strengths of relationships (e.g., P likes O and P is head-overheels in love with O are not equivalent relationships, but both would be coded as positive). It only accommodates situations involving three elements, but it would be desirable to consider balance in situations with four or more elements (Suedfeld, 1971). Despite its problems, balance theory has been applied to several areas, including friendship development (Newcomb, 1961), conformity (Brown, 1965), and reactions to criticism (Pilisuk, 1962).

Cognitive Dissonance and Attitude Change cognitive dissonance theory the theory that inconsistencies produce psychological discomfort, leading people to rationalize their behavior or change their attitudes

One of the most important applications of consistency to social phenomena is called cognitive dissonance theory. According to this theory, discrepancies between attitudes and behaviors produce psychological discomfort (cognitive dissonance). It is a theory about how people rationalize their behavior so as to bring their attitudes into line with their actions. We will examine the topic of persuasion in more detail in Chapter 13, but dissonance theory is an important special case of attitude change, because it centers on having people change their own attitudes. The origins of cognitive dissonance theory lay in some confusing findings that emerged from persuasion research during its first flowering in the 1950s. At that time, psychology was dominated by operant conditioning theory (see “Formation of Attitudes” section earlier in this chapter), which was based on the simple idea that when people are rewarded, they will do more of whatever led to the reward. Applied to persuasion, operant conditioning theory held that the best way to get people to change their attitudes was to get them to act in the desired manner and then reward them for doing so. If you want people to like pumpernickel bread, get them to say


Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency

Enjoyment rating

they like it and then pay them big bucks for saying so. It sounded reasonable, but it never seemed to work very well. If anything, the people who said it for less money seemed to end up believing it more—opposite to the reinforcement theory. Along came social psychologist Leon Festinger, who proposed that inconsistencies produce an unpleasant mental state called “cognitive dissonance.” He said that people want to maintain consistency, and so when they catch themselves being inconsistent they feel bad. The reason that paying somebody big bucks to claim to like pumpernickel bread didn’t produce any actual liking was that the money resolved the inconsistency: “I don’t really like it, but if you pay me a lot to say I like it, I’ll say so.” The more interesting case, thought Festinger, was when the pay was minimal: “I didn’t think I liked pumpernickel bread, but I said I like it, and I was willing to say so without getting much money. I’m not a liar. I must really like it some after all.” In 1959, Festinger and his colleague J. Merrill Carlsmith published a classic experiment to demonstrate how dissonance worked. Each participant came for a study called “Measures of Performance.” The experimenter said it had to do with performing routine tasks, such as were often found in factories. The experiment itself was excruciatingly boring. The participant spent the first half hour taking 12 little wooden spools off a tray one at a time, then putting them back on the tray, then off again, over and over and over. The second half hour was no better: The participant had to turn 48 square pegs a quarter turn clockwise, then again, and again, and again. Finally, when the participant was probably about bored to tears, the experimenter said that the study was over but he would explain that there were some hidden wrinkles to the experiment. The experimenter said that the study was really about trying to motivate people to perform these routine, repetitious tasks. To do that, he employed a confederate who pretended to have been a previous participant in the study and who would tell each real participant that the task was fun, exciting, interesting, fascinating, and great. The experimenter said the study’s purpose was to see whether people who heard these glowing tributes performed better than others. effort justification the finding that Then came the crucial part. The experimenter said he had an appointment with when people suffer or work hard or another participant scheduled in a few minutes, and the confederate who was supmake sacrifices, they will try to conposed to be there had called to cancel. The experimenter asked the participant to “fill vince themselves that it is worthwhile in” and perform the confederate’s job, which just entailed meeting the next participant and telling her that the experiment was interesting. Obviously this was false— the participant knew how deadly boring the task was—but the participant didn’t want to refuse the request and so agreed to do what the experimenter asked. The ● Figure 7.6 experimenter paid the participant either $1 or $20 for performing this service. (ParParticipants in the Festinger and ticipants in the control group skipped this part of the experiment, so they were not Carlsmith (1959) study who had asked to lie and were paid nothing.) The next participant (who was actually a conbeen paid $1 to lie about how federate) came in, the participant told this person that the task was really interesting, enjoyable the experiment was rated it as more enjoyable than the confederate expressed some skepticism, the participant insisted, and the confeddid those in the other two groups, erate finally agreed. which were not significantly Later, in a different room, another researcher asked the participant to rate how different from each other. much he or she had enjoyed the experiment. The results of this study are shown in ● Figure 7.6. Participants had essentially lied for either $1 or $20, and they had a chance to undo the lie by convincing themselves that 2 it had been kind of true by saying that they did find the experiment enjoyable. Those who had been paid $20 did not say the task was enjoyable. They were no different from the ones who had not lied. They had no 1 dissonance: They were willing to tell a lie for $20 (especially in the name of science; and $20 was worth a lot in 1959). But those who had been paid only $1 still had some dissonance, and they changed their attitudes. They 0 said the task really had been kind of enjoyable. It was a way of rationalizing their behavior so as to resolve the inconsistency: They could reassure themselves that they had not actually lied. A second memorable study of cognitive dissonance, published the ⫺1 No lie $20 lie $1 lie same year (Aronson & Mills, 1959), introduced the idea of effort justification. According to cognitive dissonance, people don’t want to suffer or


work hard or make sacrifices, so if they do, they want to convince themselves that it is worthwhile. (We saw how much Dr. Kevorkian suffered for his beliefs; perhaps that suffering cemented his faith in how right he was.) This particular study was stimulated by controversies on college campuses surrounding “hazing” initiations at fraternities and sororities. People who wanted to join those organizations often had to go through embarrassing or painful initiation rituals, such as being spanked or paraded around naked or having to perform demeaning tasks for the older members of the organization. College administrators often wanted to clamp down on these practices, but fraternity and sorority members said that these experiences helped forge strong ties to the group. Dissonance researchers thought that perhaps the students were right and the college administrators were wrong. One experiment (Aronson & Mills, 1959) was disguised as a group discussion on sex, which back in the 1950s was pretty racy stuff. The participants were all college women who had signed up to join one of these groups. When the participant arrived, the experimenter (a man) said that the group had met several times already, and one problem had surfaced, which was that some people were too embarrassed to talk about sex. Did the participant think she could? All the women said yes. In the control condition, the experimenter said that that was good enough and she could join the group. But in the other conditions, he said that she would have to pass a test. Some participants were given a mild test, in which they merely had to say a few words such as virgin and prostitute out loud to the male experimenter. Others, however, were given a more severe initiation in which they had to recite obscene words and read sexually explicit passages from paperback novels out loud to the male experimenter. For most participants, this was an embarrassing and unpleasant experience. At the end of the test, the experimenter told each participant that she had passed and could join the interesting group. The supposedly interesting group turned out to consist of several biology graduate students droning on pointlessly about secondary sexual characteristics of insects. The measure was how well the participant liked what she heard and how much she liked the group. The women who had had no test or only a mild test didn’t like it very much and said it was a dull waste of time. But the women who had gone through the stressful, unpleasant initiation (the highly embarrassing test) rated it much more favorably. They also liked the group more. As the fraternity members were saying, people who suffered more to get into a group ended up liking the group more. That was the only way to convince themselves that their suffering had been worthwhile. The mind’s own drive for consistency is behind the process. Thus, dissonance makes people seek to justify and rationalize any suffering or effort they have made. Perhaps surprisingly, dissonance reduction processes can make people accept their suffering and even choose to continue it. Food for Thought describes how people will sometimes choose to suffer as a consequence of expecting to suffer, even if the choice is as unappealing as eating a worm! The next big advance to cognitive dissonance theory was centered around something that, as we saw in Chapter 4, is very important to people: having a choice. (We also noted earlier in this chapter that attitudes are most helpful for choosing—so it would be useful and adaptive to review and revise attitudes when making choices.) If you perform an action but do not have any choice, you don’t have to rationalize it. In these studies (Linder et al., 1967), students were encouraged to write an essay saying that various controversial speakers should be banned from college campuses, which © Scott Adams/Dist. United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

To reduce dissonance, people like to justify the effort they put into a task.



Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency

Food for Thought Would you eat a worm? Television reality shows like Survivor and Fear Factor typically include an episode in which people are asked to eat a variety of bugs, worms, and other foods that may be regarded as delicacies in some parts of the world but that strike most Americans as gross and unappealing, if not downright disgusting. Yet social psychologists have found in multiple studies that if they set up the situational factors correctly, people— even modern American college students—will eat worms or bugs. This isn’t because students think eating worms is about the same as eating dorm food! On the contrary, most start off with substantially negative attitudes toward eating such foods, but their attitudes can change. One of the most thorough and revealing studies of worm eating looked at the underlying attitudes and beliefs that had to change (Comer & Laird, 1975). On the first day of the study, participants filled out questionnaires. On the second day, each participant was ushered into a laboratory room and told the task would be performed there. In one condition, participants were told the task would involve weight discrimination, as in whether you can tell which of two lumps of metal is heavier. The lab was set up with a scale, some metal weights, and some paper. Other participants were told their assigned task would be to eat a worm. The lab was set up with a plate containing a (dead) worm, as well as a fork, a napkin, and a glass of water. The participant was left alone for a while, to allow time to get used to the idea. Then came more questionnaires, so the researchers could track people’s thoughts. After a time the experimenter returned again and said he had made a mistake. Instead of being assigned the one task, the participant was supposed to be allowed to choose whether to do the worm-eating task or the weight discrimination task. Among the participants who had been told they were assigned to the weight discrimination task and then were given the chance to eat a worm instead, all (100%) said

© Anders Ryman/Corbis

Would You Eat a Bug or a Worm?

something to the effect of “No thanks!” All these participants stuck with the emotionally neutral weight discrimination task. Among those who had expected to eat the worm and then were given the chance to do the weight discrimination task, however, most (80%) stuck with the worm. This may seem surprising, but the questionnaire data revealed that changed attitudes helped mediate the choice. Most of these people had changed their views by increasing their belief that (a) I am brave, (b) I deserve to suffer, or (c) eating a worm isn’t so bad. The people who failed to change any of these beliefs made up the 20% who jumped at the chance to do the weight discrimination task instead. Thus, this study shows that sometimes people will choose to suffer as a consequence of expecting to suffer— but only if they have coped by changing some of their relevant beliefs and attitudes.

was contrary to what most students believed (they supported free speech and their own freedom to listen). Some were told that this was their assigned task in the experiment. Others were told “We would really appreciate it if you would do this, but it’s entirely up to you to decide.” Most people willingly agreed to the experimenter’s request. Only the people in the latter (high-choice) condition experienced dissonance and changed their attitudes toward greater agreement with their essays. Another step forward came when researchers began to ask themselves what dissonance felt like. Was it an arousal state—that is, a bodily reaction in which the heart beats faster and in other respects the person seems more tense and nervous? In other



words, does dissonance resemble an emotional reaction? A series of studies indicated that the answer is yes. When people performed actions contrary to their attitudes, they often felt acutely uncomfortable. If this feeling was blocked, they did not change their attitude. If they had this feeling but thought it was due to something else (specifically, a pill they had been given, along with instructions that the pill would make them feel tense and aroused), they did not change their attitudes (Zanna & Cooper, 1974; Zanna et al., 1976). Only people who felt discomfort and attributed it to their inconsistent behavior were driven to rationalize what they had done by changing their attitudes to match their actions. Dissonance is marked not only by arousal, but by an unpleasant arousal. It feels bad. Another advance in dissonance theory linked the reaction to the interpersonal sphere. People may have some desire to be consistent in the privacy of their minds, but they have a much stronger desire to be seen by other people as consistent. We live in a social world in which people expect each other to be consistent. People who say one thing one day and something else another day are criticized as liars, hypocrites, gullible weaklings, untrustworthy or unreliable chameleons, and worse. It is important to act consistently when in the presence of others. This interpersonal dimension invokes the importance of self-presentation, as covered in Chapter 3 on the self: What is inside is often driven by what happens between people. Consistency may be yet another case in which inner processes serve interpersonal relations. On the long road to social acceptance, people learn that others expect them to be consistent and may reject them if they are not. As an extreme example, in 2004 Democratic candidate John Kerry lost one of the closest presidential elections in American history, partly because the opposition managed to persuade voters, perhaps unfairly, that Kerry was inconsistent (“flip-flopping”) on important issues. Many studies have shown the importance of self-presentation (that is, the effort to make a good impression or keep a good reputation) in cognitive dissonance. For example, when people act in ways that are contrary to their attitudes, the effects depend on who is looking. Writing an essay that violates your beliefs has little effect if it is done privately and anonymously, whereas if you have to put your name on it, you are more likely to feel dissonance and to change your attitude to match what you said. Recording some comments on an audiotape produces little dissonance, but saying the same thing on videotape (in which your face identifies you) produces dissonance and motivates attitude change. Telling someone that a task was interesting doesn’t seem to have an effect if that person doesn’t listen or doesn’t believe you, but if you actually convince someone, then you feel a much greater need to convince yourself too. In the opening example of Dr. Kevorkian, consider how difficult it would have been for him to change his mind after he had become internationally famous for advocating doctor-assisted suicide. Is the drive for consistency rooted in nature or culture? Social psychologists have debated this question for decades. Cultural variation would be one indication that it is learned, but there is some evidence that the same basic drive for consistency can be found in very different cultures (Kitayama & Markus, 1999). On the other hand, the influence of social pressures toward consistency probably strengthens the drive. Either way, the root probably lies in the fact that groups of people can get along better if the people understand each other, and understanding each other is easier if people are somewhat consistent. People expect and pressure each other to be consistent, and people respond to these pressures and expectations by seeking to be consistent. Quite possibly the drive for consistency is rooted in our biological nature and strengthened by learning and socialization. Most likely the drive toward consistency involves both parts of the duplex mind. The automatic system can learn to detect inconsistencies and send out alarm signals (distress, arousal). The conscious system then steps in and finds some resolution to the inconsistency by thinking about how to rationalize or rethink things. It is also possible that some modes of dissonance reduction are automatic.


Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency

Quiz Yourself 1.


According to Heider’s P-O-X theory, the following relationship is _____.

drives a gas-guzzling car alone, and never uses public transportation. Don feels a certain amount of mental discomfort, which is most likely _____. (a) attitude polarization (b) cognitive dissonance (c) effort justification (d) negative attitude change


⫹ Professor

(a) balanced (c) semi-balanced 2.

⫺ ⫺


Cognitive dissonance theory predicts that when there is little external justification for having performed an act, dissonance will be _____ and attitude change will _____. (a) high; occur (b) high; not occur (c) low; occur (d) low; not occur


Which statement summarizes the basic idea underlying effort justification? (a) Less leads to more. (b) More leads to less. (c) Suffering leads to liking. (d) Liking leads to suffering.


(b) unbalanced (d) Not enough information is given.

Don says he values the environment. Someone reminds Don that he litters, wastes water, eats a lot of meat,

Answers: 1=a, 2=b, 3=a, 4=c

Do Attitudes Really Predict Behaviors? Psychology calls itself a behavioral science, which means that its main goal is predicting and explaining behavior. Attitudes are supposedly worth studying because they guide behavior. People act on the basis of what they like and dislike. Or do they? This is an important question, because if attitudes can’t predict behavior, there would be no point in studying them. Researchers have been examining the link between attitudes and behaviors for decades. An early sign that this link might be weak came before World War II. In the 1930s, many Americans did not like the Chinese for a variety of reasons, including a common perception that Chinese immigrants were taking American jobs. In 1934, a social psychologist named LaPiere (1934) and a young Chinese couple drove 10,000 miles across the country. They stopped at 184 restaurants and 66 hotels, auto camps, and tourist homes. They received service at all establishments, except for one dilapidated car camp where the owner refused to lodge them and called them “Japs.” Six months later, LaPiere sent a questionnaire to the same establishments, asking whether they would accommodate Chinese guests. About 92% said they would not accommodate Chinese guests. This raised an early warning signal about attitudes: These business owners, at least, expressed attitudes that differed sharply from their actual behavior.

Attacking Attitudes Most social psychologists had accepted Allport’s assertion that the attitude is the most important concept in psychology. Accordingly, they were surprised when Alan Wicker wrote an article in 1969 arguing that attitudes were a trivial, peripheral phenomenon. After reviewing the results from 47 studies, Wicker said that attitudes did not cause behavior or even predict it very well. He went so far as to suggest that social psychology abandon the concept of attitude and that researchers go on to study more important things instead! He wrote, “Taken as a whole, these studies suggest that it is considerably more likely that attitudes will be unrelated or only slightly related to overt behaviors than that attitudes will be closely related to actions” (p. 65). Once you set aside the assumption that people are generally consistent, it is not hard to find evidence that attitudes can differ from behavior. In a recent news story, for example, a leader of an anti-pornography campaign was arrested with a prostitute. He

Do Attitudes Really Predict Behavior?


had paid her for sex and was carrying a bottle of Viagra. To read about some studies on attitude–behavior consistency, see The Social Side of Sex.

Defending Attitudes Wicker’s (1969) critique provoked a crisis in the field. Many social psychologists had spent their careers studying attitudes, and they were very disturbed to hear that attitudes were just little ideas flitting around inside people’s minds that had no connection to what the people actually did. Attitude researchers circled the wagons to defend themselves, seeking ways to show how attitudes actually might have a closer link to behavior. General Attitudes and Specific Behaviors. A first response in defense of attitudes

was that the gap between general attitudes and specific behaviors was too big (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1977). Researchers might ask what someone’s attitude was toward helping people and then measure whether the person was willing to donate blood on Thursday afternoon. The problem is that someone might be in favor of helping people generally, but not want to give blood on Thursday afternoon (perhaps the person had a hot date or racquetball game Thursday evening and didn’t want to be short of blood). In contrast, if researchers measured attitudes toward giving blood on Thursday afternoon, these attitudes were much better predictors of whether the person would actually give blood. The solution, though it did help indicate that attitudes could predict behavior, sacrificed broad general attitudes and put a burden on researchers to measure a vast number of very specific attitudes rather than a few general ones. Behavior Aggregation. Another solution to the problem of attitude–behavior

inconsistency comes from aggregating behavior, which means combining across many different behaviors on different occasions (Rushton et al., 1983). A person’s attitude toward helping others might fare better if we didn’t limit it to one behavioral test, such as giving blood on Thursday. Instead, we could add up whether the person gives blood any day in the next month, plus whether the person donates money to charity, plus whether the person volunteers to work with the homeless, plus whether the person stops to help a handicapped person cross the street. A person with a more positive attitude toward helping others will perform more of these behaviors, and this could add up to a substantial difference, even though the general attitude’s link to any single behavior may be weak or unreliable. Broad Attitude in Context. A third solution is that general attitudes can help cause

behavior, but only if they are prominent in the person’s conscious mind and influence how the person thinks about the choices he or she faces (Fazio & TowlesSchwen, 1999). When asked to give blood on Thursday, the person might say no despite having a favorable attitude toward helping others, because the person might not think of the question in terms of helping others. (The person might think of it in terms of being scared of needles.) If you first caused the person to reflect on his or her attitude toward helping others, then when the request for a blood donation came along, the person would see it as an opportunity to help, and hence the person’s willingness to give blood would be shaped by that broad attitude. The broad attitude can influence specific behavior, but only if it has a chance to shape how the person interprets and construes the specifics of the here-and-now situation.

accessibility how easily something comes to mind

Attitude Accessibility. Accessibility refers to how easily the attitude comes to mind. Highly accessible attitudes can be quite influential because they come to mind very easily (Ajzen, 2001; Fazio, 1990). Obviously, an attitude that does not easily come to mind will have little opportunity to exert influence on thought, emotion, and behavior. One meta-analysis of 88 studies found that attitudes that are certain, stable, consistent, accessible, and based on direct experience are especially effective in predicting behavior (Kraus, 1995).


Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency

The Social Side of Sex A–B Inconsistency and Erotic Plasticity As we have seen, attitude researchers have struggled with what they call the A–B problem, the problem of inconsistency between attitudes (A) and behaviors (B). In sex, there is ample room for contradictions between people’s attitudes and their actual behaviors. One general prediction derives from the view that female sexuality is more open than male sexuality to influence from social, cultural, and situational factors (Baumeister, 2000). If that is correct, then women should show lower attitude–behavior consistency than men, because women’s sexual responses depend much more on the immediate situation and various other social influences. What a man wants may be the same regardless of context, but if the woman’s sexual response depends on what it means and on other particulars, then her general attitude won’t be as relevant as his. Same-gender sexual activity is one place where attitudes and behaviors diverge. A major survey during the 1990s asked people both about their attitudes toward homosexual activity (“Do you like the idea of having sex with someone of your own gender?”) and about their actual behavior (“Have you had sex with someone of your own gender during the past year?”) For men, the two questions overlapped heavily: A large majority (85%) of those who favored homosexual activity had engaged in it during the past year. In contrast, attitudes and behaviors were much less consistent for women: Less than half of those who liked the idea had actually done it recently (Laumann et al., 1994). The gender gap in consistency can be found in heterosexual behavior too. Multiple studies have looked at whether people engage in sexual activity of which they do not approve, and all have found that women do this far more than men (Antonovsky et al., 1978; Christensen & Carpenter, 1962; Croake & James, 1973).

A–B problem the problem of inconsistency between attitudes (A) and behaviors (B)

Most people believe they should use condoms, especially when having sex with new or unfamiliar partners, but many people fail to do so. The gap between pro-condom attitudes and non-condom-using behaviors is larger among women than men (which is ironic, given that a condom detracts from male enjoyment more than female enjoyment) (Herold & Mewhinney, 1993). Likewise, most people strongly favor being faithful to your partner if you have a committed relationship, but many people do occasionally indulge in kissing or sexual intercourse, or anything in between, with other partners. Again, women’s behavior is more inconsistent than men’s. In one study, men’s attitudes regarding infidelity explained about 33% of their behavior, whereas women’s attitudes explained only 11% (Hansen, 1987). We saw that one solution to the A–B problem is for social psychologists to measure very specific attitudes. This doesn’t resolve the gender problem, though. Several studies have measured whether people had sex on an occasion when they did not feel desire for sex. Both men and women do this (e.g., to please a partner who is feeling amorous), but more women than men do it (Beck et al., 1991; O’Sullivan & Allgeier, 1998). Apart from the special case of opportunity constraints, men’s attitudes predict their sexual behavior much better than women’s. The reason is not that women are generally inconsistent (indeed, there is no such general pattern outside of sexual activity). Rather, women’s sexual responses are specific to the person, the situation, and what it all means, and so their general attitudes are not highly relevant. In contrast, men tend to like and dislike the same things day in and day out, regardless of specific situations, and so their general attitudes predict their behavior much better.

Conclusion: Attitudes in Action What, then, can we say about attitudes and behavior? Attitudes are essentially a matter of liking versus disliking things in the social world, and as such they are among the most basic and universal phenomena that psychology studies. It is probably impossible for a human being to live without having attitudes. And, more to the point, when attitudes are lacking, it is difficult to know how to act. A central theme of this book is that inner processes serve interpersonal functions. Attitudes help us navigate through the complicated world of society and culture. Even just interacting with a group of peers would be difficult without attitudes. Attitudes tell you which people you like and which you don’t like, and shared attitudes about other objects (liking warm weather, disliking broccoli, liking a certain sports team, hating a particular music group) create bonds between people along with giving them much to talk about. In retrospect, it seems a bit absurd that social psychologists questioned whether attitudes had any relationship to behavior. Why would the human mind be full of

Beliefs and Believing


attitudes if they didn’t affect behavior? Yet Wicker (1969) was correct in pointing out that the existing data at that time showed that people often acted in ways that went against what they had said their attitudes were. His challenge to social psychologists led to a productive rethinking of how to study attitudes and behaviors. Consistency is there to be found, but it is not as simple or as prevalent as many experts had assumed.

Quiz Yourself 1.


Do Attitudes Really Predict Behaviors?

In 1934, a social psychologist named LaPiere and a Chinese couple drove 10,000 miles across the country, stopping at numerous hotels and restaurants. The Chinese couple received service at all of the establishments except one. Six months later, LaPiere sent a questionnaire to the same establishments, asking whether they would accommodate Chinese guests. What percentage said they would accommodate Chinese guests? (a) 92% (b) 75% (c) 50% (d) 8% After reviewing the results from 47 studies, what did Wicker conclude in his 1969 article about the relationship between attitudes and behaviors?

(a) It is almost perfect. (c) It is moderate in size.

(b) It is strong. (d) It is so weak that the concept of attitudes should be abandoned.


According to Gordon Allport, what is the most important concept in psychology? (a) Aggression (b) Attitudes (c) Discrimination (d) Social influence


The best way to predict whether people will go see Rocky XXX is to assess their attitudes toward _____. (a) boxing (b) films (c) previous Rocky films (d) sports Answers: 1=d, 2=d, 3=b, 4=c

Beliefs and Believing Consistency is an important issue for beliefs just as much as for attitudes. You want your beliefs about the world to be consistent with the world.

Believing Versus Doubting

Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

It’s true, it’s true, every word . . . at least until you stop and think.

“I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t believe it!” Clearly there is a big gap between understanding and believing. Or is there? Recent research has suggested that doubting/disbelieving is separate from understanding—but believing immediately, automatically accompanies understanding. Consider the title of one article on this pattern: “You Can’t Not Believe Everything You Read!” (Gilbert et al., 1993). As soon as you understand it, you believe it; only then, and only maybe, do you take a second step of changing your mind. If someone tells you the moon is made of green cheese, there is a brief moment when you believe it, even though you probably quickly change your opinion. The difference is important. Believing and disbelieving are not on an equal par. If for some reason the mind is prevented from taking the second step of changing your mind, you might just go on believing that the moon is made of green cheese. People do not seem naturally able to take in information while withholding judgment as to whether it is correct or not. The duplex mind may be implicated here. The automatic system automatically believes the information it is given. The conscious system can override this belief by deciding that it is false. If you only use automatic processing, you will believe lots of things that aren’t true (Gilbert, 1991, 1993).


Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency

Children, for example, are notoriously gullible. If believing and disbelieving were equal acts that occurred at the same step, then children would first learn to understand without either believing or disbelieving anything, and then gradually learn to judge information as true or false. This is not what happens, though. Children first believe everything they are told, and only later learn to doubt and question (Gilbert, 1991). Likewise, in lab studies, people who are supplied with information while they are distracted (such as when the experimenter tells them to remember a phone number for later) end up believing things they are told more than people who are not distracted. Out in the world, religious and political cults are sometimes accused of “brainwashing” their members into believing strange things. To strengthen belief in their ideas, they often make sure their converts are tired or distracted (even by physical pain, hunger, or discomfort) when the doctrines are presented. If you wanted people to understand your cult’s ideas best, you would want them rested and alert when you presented your teachings, but if you want someone to believe everything, then you should present your ideas when the person is not at full mental power. Tired or distracted people do not make it to the second step (of doubt); they stop at the first step, which combines understanding and believing (Gilbert, 1991, 1993). In short, when you understand something, believing it is automatic, whereas to doubt and question it may require controlled, conscious thought. The automatic system is fairly uncritical and accepts as true whatever it is told. The conscious mind can override this and change from belief to disbelief. But as we know, conscious activity requires time and effort, which people do not always have.

Belief Perseverance belief perseverance the finding that once beliefs form, they are resistant to change, even if the information on which they are based is discredited

Once beliefs form, they are resistant to change. This is true even of false beliefs that have been discredited. This effect is called belief perseverance. In one study (Ross et al., 1975), participants were given 25 real and fictitious suicide notes and were told to identify the real ones. By the flip of a coin, participants were told either that they had correctly identified 24 of the 25 (success feedback) or that they had correctly identified 10 of the 25 (failure feedback). Both groups were told that the average was 16 correct. At the end of the study, all participants were told that the feedback they had received was bogus. Nevertheless, participants who had received success feedback thought they were more accurate on the current test and that they would be more accurate on a future test than did participants who had received failure feedback. Participants thus continued to believe the feedback even though it had been discredited by the researcher. A classic study about firefighters provided important evidence of belief perseverance (Anderson et al., 1980). Half the participants read cases suggesting that risk-taking people make better firefighters than cautious people, whereas the other half read cases suggesting that cautious people make better firefighters than risk-taking people. Both groups of participants were told to come up with theories explaining the cases they had read. Then participants were told that the study was over and that the cases they had read were bogus. However, participants did not abandon their firefighting theories, even though the evidence on which they were based had been discredited by the researcher. The good news is that there is a remedy for belief perseverance. Explaining the opposite theory (e.g., why a cautious person might make a better firefighter than a risk-taking person) reduces or eliminates belief perseverance (Anderson & Sechler, 1986; Lord et al., 1984). If you want to understand things correctly, it is good to cultivate the habit of trying out the opposite theory to whatever theory you encounter.

Belief and Coping Beliefs help people understand the world around them. This is especially apparent when people experience serious problems, such as misfortunes or disasters. The general

Beliefs and Believing


© Creasource/Corbis

term for how people attempt to deal with traumas and go back to functioning effectively in life is coping. The study of coping is an important opportunity for social psychologists to understand beliefs. Something that puzzled psychologists for decades was that the psychological impact of trauma often went far beyond the physical or pragmatic harm. People are sometimes quite upset over having their apartment robbed, even though they may not have lost much of value and most of the loss is repaid by insurance. Some rape victims may be traumatized for years even though they suffer no lasting or permanent physical harm. How can these processes be understood? Bodily injury and money may be two components of trauma, but clearly there is something else. One important answer is that a crime affects a victim’s beliefs about the world. Social psychologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman (1992) has called these beliefs assumptive worlds, a term that expresses the view that people live in social worlds based on their assumptions of how things operate. These include three main types of assumptions, all of which help people live healthy and happy lives, but any of which can be shattered when one is a victim of a crime:

Victims of purse snatching and similar crimes are often more upset than the financial loss or inconvenience would warrant. Such events can change one’s view of the world.

coping the general term for how people attempt to deal with traumas and go back to functioning effectively in life assumptive worlds the view that people live in social worlds based on certain beliefs (assumptions) about reality

1. The world is benevolent. Basically, people are nice, life is safe, and one

can count on good things happening most of the time. The opposite belief is that the world is a dangerous place full of evil, untrustworthy people. 2. The world is fair and just. The world is fair, so people generally get what they deserve. If you follow the rules and treat others with fairness and kindness, you can expect to be treated that way yourself. 3. I am a good person. I am someone of value and therefore deserve good things to happen to me.

If someone steals your wallet, or vandalizes your car, or assaults you during a stroll in the park, this creates a problem because it violates those beliefs. As you try to explain to yourself how such a thing can happen, you may feel that you cannot continue to maintain those three beliefs as well as you did before. Ultimately, effective coping may involve figuring out how to explain the crime while still permitting yourself to continue believing that, by and large, the world is benevolent and fair and you are a good person who deserves good things. This view of coping helps explain a surprising finding that emerged from one of Janoff-Bulman’s early studies (Bulman & Wortman, 1977), which concluded that blaming oneself is often a good way to cope. That study interviewed individuals who had been paralyzed in serious accidents. All the victims had asked the question “Why me?” and nearly all had come up with an answer. To the researchers’ surprise, it did not seem to matter what explanation they came up with—fate, God’s will, their own mistakes, or other factors. The big difference was whether they did or did not have an explanation. Those who had found an explanation coped better than those who had not, as rated by hospital staff and others. This finding was surprising because most psychologists at the time assumed that blaming oneself for misfortune or trauma would be bad for the person. Therapists who heard a patient blame himself or herself would often rush in to insist that such an explanation was wrong, and the person should avoid self-blame. Yet self-blame seemed to work just fine in helping people cope. The researchers’ explanation was that blaming oneself can actually help people achieve a sense of control. The paralyzed victims would say things like “It was my fault; I was driving too fast” or “I wanted to impress my friends, so I jumped, even though I knew it was risky.” If people believe that their own foolish actions caused their misfortunes, it helps them feel that they can avoid future misfortunes by not repeating those mistakes. In contrast, people who cannot explain their misfortunes to themselves are more likely to think that something bad could happen to them again, regardless of what they do. They feel much more vulnerable and have a hard time getting over what happened.


Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency

cognitive coping the idea that beliefs play a central role in helping people cope with and recover from misfortunes

downward comparison comparing oneself to people who are worse off

Not all self-blame is good, of course. Janoff-Bulman thoughtfully distinguished between blaming oneself for one’s actions, as opposed to blaming oneself for being a bad person. Someone who reacts to being robbed or injured by thinking “I am a worthless person and I deserve to have bad things happen to me” is not going to bounce back very effectively. It is much more helpful to think “I am basically a good and competent person, and I foolishly took a risk that brought this harm to me—so if I act more wisely in the future, I can avoid further problems.” The upshot is that mental processes play a central role in helping people cope with and recover from misfortunes. A broad theory of cognitive coping was put forward by Shelley Taylor (1983), who outlined several kinds of beliefs that need to be bolstered or restored in the wake of trauma. Her original work focused on women who had breast cancer, but the ideas have been applied in many other contexts since then. One important type of cognitive coping is based on the belief that whatever happened could have been worse, and so at least the person was somewhat lucky. The technical term for this is downward comparison (Wills, 1981). People compare themselves and their situations to other people who are worse off, and this makes people feel better about themselves. For example, women whose breast cancer resulted in surgery to remove a lump from the breast compared themselves to others who had lost an entire breast. The reverse comparison was rare or absent: No women who lost an entire breast compared themselves with women who had only had the lumpectomy. In everyday life, many people seem to understand this principle, because “It could have been a lot worse” is a standard phrase that people say to someone to whom something bad has just happened. Other beliefs in cognitive coping pertain to self-esteem and control. Victims of trauma and misfortune often need to find some way to restore their belief that they are good people and that they can exert control over what happens to them. Taylor observed that many women cultivated beliefs that they could control their cancer and prevent it from coming back, even though these beliefs often had little or no medical validity. The women thought that by eating certain foods or acting in a certain way (even by getting a divorce), they could keep themselves safe. These beliefs, although wrong according to medical knowledge (and many were later proven wrong, because the cancer did eventually come back), were a great source of comfort. Still another type of helpful belief is that all things have some useful or higher purpose. The majority of women in Taylor’s research sample reported positive changes in their lives that had come from having breast cancer. Many said they had learned to appreciate what was truly important in life, such as love and family, and had learned not to get upset over minor things. Religious beliefs are also helpful to people under these circumstances, because people can accept on faith that God has some purpose for letting these misfortunes occur to them, or even that their suffering has helped test and cement their faith. Others look to their own good deeds. A woman named Maureen Fischer suffered badly when her 3-year-old daughter died from a brain tumor, but she turned this tragedy into something good by raising money for and founding a hospitality lodge where families with very sick children could come for free vacations. In this way, her daughter’s death helped her find a way to bring joy and comfort to many suffering families (Fischer, 1985). When people encounter disasters or suffering, their beliefs must help them get by, and sometimes these beliefs must change. Even so, consistency is important in dictating whether beliefs will be helpful or not. Some traumas seem to contradict beliefs—such as assumptions about the world being a safe, benevolent, and fair place—that people need in order to go on living. Coping requires finding a way to make the trauma seem compatible or even consistent with those beliefs. Other beliefs help frame the problem in a way that makes it more tolerable, such as believing that the misfortune could have been much worse, or believing that the bad event led to some good purpose.

Beliefs and Believing


Religious Belief Religion involves a very important category of beliefs. Science cannot generally say anything about whether religious beliefs are true or false. Regardless of objective truth, however, psychology can shed light on why some people accept religious beliefs while other people reject those same beliefs. It can also explore the benefits that people get from believing in religion, again regardless of whether those beliefs are true. The appeal of religion throughout history has been partly its ability to explain the world, especially those things that cannot be explained by science. Religion can explain both large and small things. It can explain grand issues, such as where the sun, earth, and moon came from, where the person (or soul) existed before birth, and what happens after death; but religion can also explain smaller things, such as why your child got sick. Religion can also provide other benefits, including social support, a sense of meaning, purpose, and direction for one’s life, and an environment that fosters the development of virtues such as honesty or integrity (Exline, 2002). Religious beliefs can help people cope with stress (e.g., Pargament, 1997; Smith, McCullough, & Poll, 2003). For example, people recover more quickly from being sexually assaulted if they use religion to cope with the traumatic event (Frazier, Tashiro, Berman, Steger, & Long, 2004). People who rely on religion to help them cope are also less likely to fall back on ineffective coping strategies, such as drinking alcohol (e.g., Bazargan, Sherkat, & Bazargan, 2004). Research has shown that appealing to a superordinate (high, all-encompassing) principle is an effective way to reduce dissonance (Burris, 1997). For example, between 1831 and 1844, a preacher named William Miller launched the Great Second Advent Awakening, also known as the Millerite Movement (Knight, 1999). Based on his study of the biblical verse in Daniel 8:14, Miller calculated that Jesus Christ would return to earth sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. After those dates passed, Samuel Snow, a follower of Miller, used the biblical verse in Habakkuk 2:3 to extend the date to October 22, 1844. (Note how changing these details allowed people to maintain consistency in the overriding belief.) When that prophecy also failed, thousands of believers left the movement, calling the prophecy the Great Disappointment. Some of the followers, however, concluded that the prophecy predicted not that Jesus Christ would return to earth on October 22, 1844, but that a special ministry in heaven would be formed on that date. They continued to believe in Miller’s teachings. However, the road to religious belief sometimes contains stumbling blocks (for reviews, see Exline, 2002; Exline & Rose, 2005). At a cognitive level, people may have trouble dealing with inconsistent doctrines or resolving existential questions. At a more emotional level, some religious doctrines and practices can elicit feelings of fear and guilt. People may also experience feelings of anger or resentment toward God or toward other members of their religious groups. Religion offers great benefits to many believers, but maintaining faith is not always easy.

Irrational Belief People believe lots of crazy things, even though there is no rational basis for these beliefs (Tobacyk & Milford, 1983). These include paranormal beliefs (about Big Foot, UFOs, ghosts, etc.), as well as beliefs that are logically and statistically flawed (e.g., the belief that one can control chance events, the belief that random events even out in the short run). We explored some of these irrational beliefs in Chapter 5 on social cognition. When it comes to irrational beliefs, the minuses probably outweigh the pluses. People who hold irrational beliefs are more anxious and more likely to “choke” when they are required to perform important behaviors (Tobacyk & Downs, 1986). They cope less well with terminal illnesses (Thompson et al., 1993), they are more likely to become depressed over time (Persons & Rao, 1985), and they have

Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency

© Dale O'Dell/Alamy


lower levels of self-esteem (Daly & Burton, 1983). People who think they are lucky are more likely to gamble and may therefore squander their money trying to beat unbelievable odds or to recoup large amounts of money they have already lost. How do gamblers sustain their optimism as the losses mount up? After all, if you lose more than you win (as most gamblers do), you should logically conclude either that you aren’t lucky or that gambling is a foolish thing to do with your money, and so you should stop. An intriguing series of studies suggests that gamblers maintain their positive (irrational) beliefs by using a series of tricks. In particular, they convince themselves that many losses were “near wins,” and so they don’t count those against themselves. Thus, if they bet on sports, they feel lucky and smart if they win the bet, and they feel unlucky or dumb if their team loses by a wide margin. But if they lose by a small margin, they tell themselves that they should have won. This permits them to remain confident that they will win in the future (Gilovich, 1983).

People believe in lots of crazy things, such as Big Foot, even though there is no rational basis for these beliefs.

Quiz Yourself

Beliefs and Believing


Which is faster, believing or disbelieving? (a) Believing (b) Disbelieving (c) They are equally fast. (d) It depends on how old the person is.


Sometimes even social psychologists are reluctant to give up their pet theories, even when the data contradict those theories. This tendency is called _____. (a) assumptive world beliefs (b) belief perseverance (c) mere exposure effect (d) the A–B problem


Which of the following incidents would violate an assumptive world belief? (a) Getting a flat tire (b) Slipping and falling on the highway on the ice (c) Getting beaten up (d) All of the above by a bully at school


Trent got in a serious car crash. He totaled his car and broke his collarbone. Trent considers himself very unlucky. While in the hospital, he saw a story on the local news about another car accident in which the driver totaled his car and suffered serious brain damage. After hearing the news report, Trent now considers himself lucky rather than unlucky. What type of social comparison did Trent make? (a) downward (b) lateral (c) upward (d) None of the above

Answers: 1=a, 2=b, 3=d, 4=a

What Makes Us Human? Putting the Cultural Animal in Perspective


umans are not unique in having attitudes. Animals have attitudes, at least in the sense that they like and dislike certain things. But humans have far more attitudes than most other animals, and the mental processes associated with them are probably far more complex. The way attitudes and beliefs operate is much more complicated among humans. For one thing, consistency pressures seem much more central in human than in animal functioning. It is doubtful that animals can really understand inconsistency beyond very simple events (e.g, expecting something and suddenly not finding it). There is little reason to think that animals engage in rationalization, whereas cognitive

Chapter Summary


dissonance processes have been found among human beings in many different contexts. Likewise, balance theory and other attempts to maintain consistency among multiple beliefs are much more prominent in human than in animal psychology. One reason for the greater human concern with consistency is that we use language in dealing with each other. Humans ask each other for explanations. If a person didn’t like carrots, for example, and then one day her friends found her gobbling carrots by the handful, they would probably ask her to explain the inconsistency. Without language, other animals don’t do that sort of thing, so they do not need to think about or prepare explanations for their inconsistent actions. The way people think creates other special processes involving attitudes and beliefs. People can hold dual attitudes, in which their conscious attitude differs from their automatic response; animals that lack higher-level cognitions don’t have that kind of inner conflict. We saw that simply thinking about an issue causes people’s opinions to become polarized, but most animals would not be capable of that much thinking and hence wouldn’t have to cope with its polarizing consequence. We also saw that doubting and questioning, and ultimately rejecting a belief as untrue, is often a second step in human thinking that may require conscious thought. Nonprimates probably lack the capacity to make true/false judgments. In practice, that probably means they believe everything that is presented to them. Much of the great progress in human culture, from science to philosophy, involves carefully considering multiple views and rejecting those that are found to be false. Without the capacity to judge something as false, animals have been unable to develop science or philosophy. Humans also use attitudes and beliefs much more extensively than other animals in how they relate to the world around them. We develop elaborate sets of beliefs to help us understand the world. (Again, only humans have developed science, religion, and philosophy.) Beliefs have another benefit, in that they can help people cope with misfortune. To an animal, a bad event (such as an injury) is just a practical matter, but for humans bad events affect their beliefs about the world, and people can use or modify those beliefs to help themselves bounce back.

Chapter Summary What Are Attitudes and Why Do People Have Them? ●

● ●

Beliefs are pieces of information, facts or opinions; attitudes are broad evaluations (liking or disliking) toward some object or issue. Implicit attitudes are automatic, nonconscious, evaluative responses; explicit attitudes are controlled, conscious, evaluative responses. Dual attitudes refer to having different, competing attitudes, one conscious and the other in the nonconscious or automatic part of the mind. People may not be aware of all their own attitudes. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is a measure of attitudes and beliefs, including some that people may be either unwilling or unable to report. The term stigma refers to an attribute that is perceived by others as having a broad, negative value. Attitudes help deal with the complex social world. People need far more attitudes than most animals.

As soon as you know what something is, you start to know whether you like or dislike it (in the first microsecond of thought). To be impartial—as a judge or referee is supposed to— may require overcoming one’s attitudes. Attitudes are tremendously helpful in making choices. Possessing an attitude increases the ease, speed, and quality of decision making.

How Attitudes Are Formed ●

The mere exposure effect is the tendency for novel stimuli to be liked more after the individual has been repeatedly exposed to them. Familiarity breeds liking! Classical conditioning (also called Pavlovian conditioning) is the repeated pairing of an unconditioned stimulus with a conditioned stimulus, until the conditioned stimulus elicits a response similar to that elicited by the unconditioned stimulus.


Chapter 7: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency

Classical conditioning may help explain the development of prejudiced attitudes against social groups that are frequently associated with negative information in the media. Advertisers use classical conditioning to direct attitudes by linking their products with famous or attractive people or with feeling good. Operant conditioning (also called instrumental conditioning) is a type of learning. People are more likely to repeat behaviors that have been rewarded and are less likely to repeat behaviors that have been punished. Social learning (also called observational learning and vicarious conditioning) is the type of learning in which people are more likely to imitate behaviors if they have seen others rewarded for performing those behaviors, and are less likely to imitate behaviors if they have seen others punished for performing them. Attitudes can be